The Last Five Years Have Been Terrible for Abortion Rights

Of all the abortion restrictions enacted in the nearly 43 years since Roe v. Wade, 27 percent have become law in the last five years, according to a new report from the Guttmacher Institute. That’s the largest number of restrictions enacted in any five-year period since the Supreme Court decided Roe.

While states cannot legally deny women an abortion, legislators can still create laws that make it near-impossible to access the procedure—and they have.

In the decade that followed Roe (1973–1982), states adopted 380 abortion restrictions, or an average of 38 per year. In 2011, however, 92 new restrictions were put in place nationally. That is the highest number of restrictions enacted in any single year since Roe, surpassing the 81 enacted in 1973, making access to abortion services more limited now than at any time since Roe v. Wade.

According to a press release from Guttmacher,

The situation changed dramatically following the 2010 midterm elections that swept abortion opponents into power in state capitals across the country. From 2011 through 2015, states added, on average, 57 new restrictions per year. Five types of restrictions—limits on medication abortion, private insurance coverage and later abortions as well as expanded requirements for parental involvement and abortion counseling—account for more than half of the new restrictions adopted over this period.

As of 2013, 27 states have put TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) laws into place, creating onerous restrictions and requirements for abortion providers.

One such TRAP law in Texas requires that abortions be performed in facilities that meet ambulatory surgical center standards, including specifics on room and doorway sizes, staffing and anesthesia, among other things. Meeting those standards can cost clinics millions.

That measure, part of the omnibus anti-abortion bill HB2 that passed in 2013 and is currently before the Supreme Court, also requires physicians providing abortion services to have admitting privileges at a local hospital no more than 30 miles away, which can be difficult to obtain.

Those in favor of the Texas law say it is intended to protect women’s health, as it brings safety standards for abortion clinics more in line with those of other medical facilities. But in a court brief, two leading medical associations—the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Medical Association—argued that the Texas law “does not serve the health of women in Texas but instead jeopardizes women’s health by restricting access to abortion providers.”

On March 2, the Supreme Court will hear Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the biggest challenge to abortion rights since the ’90s. The court will examine parts of HB2 and decide whether the state’s rules place an undue burden on a woman’s constitutional right to end a pregnancy.

If the Supreme Court rules against Whole Woman’s Health, a mere 10 providers—at most—would remain in all of Texas, the second most populous state in the nation. This could in turn force women to travel hundreds of miles or turn to drastic or illegal options to end their pregnancies.

Share your pre-Roe abortion stories on Twitter with the hashtag #WeWontGoBack, and remind lawmakers of the true dangers of denying women access to abortion care.

Photo via Shutterstock


Lily Wujek is currently a student at Bennington College and an editorial intern at Ms.