States Continue to Threaten Abortion Rights

The past two weeks have not been very good for Team Pro-Choice. If you had any doubt about the War on Women continuing into 2013, look no further. Women’s reproductive rights continue to be eroded in Republican state legislatures across the nation. A list of the anti-abortion legislation passed recently:

South Dakota: The South Dakota Senate passed an anti-abortion bill last week that could extend what is already the longest waiting period in the United States. Currently, women must wait 72 hours after seeing a doctor before they can have an abortion. If approved by Gov. Dennis Daugaard (R), the bill would exclude weekends and holidays from that 72-hour period, which could potentially make some women wait more than a week before they could have the procedure.

North Dakota: Two weeks ago, the Senate in North Dakota, a state with one abortion clinic for 126,576 women of reproductive age, approved two anti-abortion bills. Senate Bill 2303, passed by one vote, recognizes fertilized eggs as persons and thus would effectively ban abortions at any stage of pregnancy. State Senator Margaret Sitte (R) said the bill is intended as “a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade.” The N.D. Senate also passed a bill that would shorten the limit on when legal abortions could be performed from 25 to 20 weeks of pregnancy. Both bills now move to the House, where they are expected to pass.

Arkansas: Despite a veto from Arkansas Gov. Mike Beebe on Thursday, the Arkansas Senate overrode the veto and passed the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” echoing the anti-abortion North Dakota legislature by banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy instead of 25. The Arkansas Senate also approved the “Arkansas Human Heartbeat Protection Act” (which has already passed both chambers), one of a slew of so-called heartbeat bills that would ban abortion after only 12 weeks if a fetal heartbeat is detected (with exceptions for rape, incest, lethal fetal disorders and life of the mother). The bill was sent to Gov. Mike Beebe, who has not yet taken action on it.

Wisconsin: Planned Parenthood announced on February 18 that it was shutting four of its 27 Wisconsin clinics due to lack of funding. Despite the need for reproductive and sexual health services for 165,000 Wisconsin women, Gov. Scott Walker cut $1 million in state funding to Planned Parenthood last year. Despite the fact that none of the soon-to-be-closed clinics actually offered abortions, anti-abortion advocates said this was “excellent news” as the facilities are “feeders” into Wisconsin’s three abortion clinics.

Montana: The Montana House of Representatives passed a bill last week increasing restrictions on abortion for minors. The bill is a step beyond a law passed just months ago mandating parental notification before any woman under 16 can get an abortion. Now, all women under 18 must have parental consent for an abortion, and both parent and daughter must sign a form about the “dangers” of the procedure. Lindsey Love, the communications manager for Planned Parenthood of Montana, said this new legislation is “further marginalizing women and families who need health care and deserve privacy.” The bill now moves to the Montana Senate.

Indiana: The Indiana Senate’s health committee approved a bill two weeks ago requiring an ultrasound before and after an abortion induced by the medication RU-486. Last week, Indiana senators removed one of the mandatory ultrasounds before passing the bill, sending it to the Republican-dominated House. While the amended bill doesn’t specifically require a transvaginal ultrasound, abortion-rights activists say the invasive procedure would be necessary because the embryo would be too small to be seen by an external abdominal ultrasound (RU-486 is given very early in pregnancy). Dr. Anne Davis, consulting medical director for Physicians for Reproductive Health, said the bill creates “yet another onerous, medically unnecessary barrier” for women seeking abortions. State Sen. Jean Breaux (D) unsuccessfully (and as a pointed parody) tried to add an amendment that would mandate prostate exams for men seeking medicine for erectile dysfunction. According to the Guttmacher Institute, eight states currently require women seeking abortions to undergo an ultrasound, and ultrasound bills have been introduced in nine states this year. If passed, the bill will also mandate that health clinics prescribing RU-486 must adhere to the standards of surgical clinics—a requirement that would essentially shut down a Planned Parenthood clinic in Lafayette.

Alabama: On February 19, The Alabama House of Representatives passed the “Women’s Health and Safety Act,” a “TRAP” law that increases restrictions on abortion clinics. The law would require clinics to widen their hallways, ensure that an Alabama-licensed physician be present at every abortion and make it a felony for a nurse, nurse practitioner or physician’s assistant to dispense abortion-inducing medication. The legislation was sponsored by state representative Mary Sue McClurkin (R), who said the rules are necessary because an abortion is a “major surgery” that removes the “largest organ” in a woman’s body—a bizarre statement that shows complete ignorance of medical science and of the kinds of early abortion procedures performed at Alabama clinics. Nikema Williams, vice president of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said the bill would create a “lack [of] legitimate regulated abortion centers to provide health care to women,” and that it’s real purpose was “to make safe and legal abortion in Alabama unavailable under any circumstance.” The bill now moves for a vote in the Senate.

Oklahoma: The Oklahoma Senate will soon vote on a bill passed through committee on February 20 that would allow employers to deny birth control to their employees for no reason at all. State Sen. Clark Jolley (R) created the bill after hearing from one of his male constituents, a “natural family planning medical consultant and women’s health researcher” who is against abortion and believes that contraception (which has been FDA-approved in pill form since 1960) “poisons” women’s bodies. 

There is one speck of bright news to be found in the past two weeks; New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) wants to widen access to abortion and rewrite a law that currently prohibits abortions after 24 weeks unless the woman is in danger.

But most states have continued to chip away at abortion access: 135 anti-abortion provisions have been passed since 2011. After 40 years, the right to an abortion is still under siege.

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Photo of statue of “Integrity” in South Dakota state capitol building from Flickr user loyaldefender2004 under license from Creative Commons 2.0

(And yes, we post this photo ironically.)