Yesterday the Center for Reproductive Rights released a report that gave a deeply depressing rundown of all the ways states have worked to restrict reproductive rights this year. Reading the whole report is worthwhile, but here are the highlights.
There are some major trends in states this last year:
- Ultrasound requirements or restricting doctors to read state-mandated language: It seems requiring ultrasounds before women can obtain an abortion are the hot new thing in the states, even though requiring an ultrasound seems to have no effect on a woman’s decision have an abortion.
- State Stupaks–a.k.a. exchange bans: The Affordable Care Act, which was passed by Congress earlier this year contained a compromise on abortion coverage known as the Nelson Amendment. That amendment allows states to enact their own bans on abortion coverage in private insurance plans sold through state-based exchanges. As of the writing of the CRR report, five states–Arizona, Louisiana, Mississippi, Missouri, and Tennessee–have enacted bans and two other states, Florida and Oklahoma, have passed bans that were vetoed by the governor.
- Personhood and parental notification ballot initiatives: I already wrote about Alaska’s parental notification ballot initiative that was passed by voters last week, but Colorado and Mississippi are both going to be voting on initiatives that would define life as beginning at conception. Colorado will have this initiative on the ballot this fall–possibly aiding in turnout for Republican candidates–and Mississippi will vote on it in 2011. Defining life as beginning at contraception is problematic. The proposed initiative is designed to be a direct challenge to Roe vs. Wade thus defining abortion as murder and miscarriages as involuntary manslaughter. It would also likely outlaw most forms of contraception. Also because changing the definition of “person” would literally affect thousands of laws.
The CRR also has a rundown of what happened in several states this year:
Arizona: Enacted a ban forbidding any public funds from being used to pay for abortions except in cases of rape or incest. This includes all public employees in the state and additionally enacts an exchange ban.
Idaho: Passed a conscience clause for health care providers and pharmacists, allowing them to refuse to provide abortion care, birth control, or emergency contraception.
Louisiana: Passed a law forcing closure of any clinics that are in violation of TRAP laws previously passed by the state. Passed a law excluding physicians that provide abortions from a state fund to defray malpractice costs. Passed an exchange ban. Passed a law requiring a woman seeking an abortion the option to view an ultrasound, hear a description of the image, and receive a printout of the ultrasound.
Mississippi: Passed an exchange ban except in cases of threat to the woman’s life, rape, or incest.
Missouri: Passed a law requiring a woman take a trips to an abortion provider at least 24 hours before she receives her abortion, known as a “two trip” law. At that first visit, she’s required to receive a packet of information that must contain the following sentences: “The life of each human being begins at conception. Abortion will terminate the life of a separate, unique, living human being.”
Nebraska: Passed a law banning abortion at and after 24 weeks with exceptions for the woman’s life or irreversible physical impairment. Passed a law requiring doctors to notify a patient of any possible risk from abortion, fining doctors $10,000 if he or she misses telling a patient of just one risk.
Oklahoma: Passed an ultrasound requirement before a woman may obtain an abortion. Passed a law requiring abortion providers to collect detailed demographic information and publish it online. Passed a law protecting doctors who lie about fetal abnormalities or other information that might factor into a woman’s decision of whether or not to have an abortion. Passed a health care provider refusal law, allowing providers to refuse to perform abortion and other services to patients. Requires doctors to be in the room when a woman swallows a medicated abortion pill. Passed a ban on sex-selective abortion.
South Carolina: Required providers to distribute biased information about abortions to patients before she obtains one.
Tennessee: Requires abortion providers to post large signs that say it is unlawful to coerce a woman into having an abortion. Passed an exchange ban, no exceptions.
Utah: Passed a law making it a crime for a woman to cause her own miscarriage, meaning each miscarriage has the potential for criminal investigation. Passed a law requiring an ultrasound before an abortion.
Virginia: Banned public funds from being used for abortion, including for public employees.
What’s notable about these laws is that most of the action on reproductive rights is on restricting access rather than expanding it. So much is happening on the reproductive rights front at the state level, but it is getting very, very little media attention. Often, reproductive rights activists don’t hear about the legislation until right before or right after the laws are passed. It’s an issue I found so important that I planned a panel about it at the Campus Progress National Conference this summer, featuring Jordan Goldberg, the author of the CRR report. (You can view a video of the panel here.)
Groups like the Center for Reproductive Rights do their best to stay up to date on state laws, but they can’t do it alone. If Colorado passes its personhood definition, for instance, we could eventually be looking at a Supreme Court challenge in a court that’s been unfriendly to reproductive rights. The important thing to remember is that much of the battle over abortion access is happening at the state level.
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