What Happened to Abortion Access While You Were Watching the Presidential Primaries

For the past few months we have all been watching the presidential primary debates to find out where candidates stand on the issues that are important to us, such as equal pay, federal abortion laws and funding for Planned Parenthood. But while our eyes have been glued to the national stage, a whole lot has been happening at the state level. Let’s take a look at what you may have missed. [Spoiler alert: The “War on Women” rages on.]

The Guttmacher Institute reports that between January 1 and March 31, a total of 411 abortion restrictions were introduced in state legislatures. Five states (Florida, Indiana, Kentucky, South Dakota and Utah) have passed a total of 21 new restrictions, which include TRAP Laws (Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers beyond what is necessary to protect patient safety), the defunding of Planned Parenthood and 20-week abortion bans. Here’s a more complete breakdown:

Florida: In March, Gov. Rick Scott (R) signed a bill that eliminates state funding for clinics that perform abortions. This means that health clinics that perform abortions will not longer receive any funding, including for the other services they provide, such as birth control and screenings for cancer or sexually transmitted infections. This new law will prevent tens of thousands of women from seeing their provider of choice. The law also contains a TRAP restriction that forces doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital or for the clinic to have a transfer agreement with one.

Indiana: Gov. Mike Pence (R) in March signed a bill that prevents women from getting abortions when a fetal anomaly is detected. The law prevents fetal tissue from being donated for research and requires that all fetal tissue be cremated or interred. The new law also imposes a TRAP restriction requiring doctors to have admitting privileges at a local hospital or have an agreement with a doctor who does.

South Dakota: Republican Gov. Dennis Daugaard signed a bill into law in April that bans abortion after 20 weeks (22 weeks post fertilization), with the only exception being a medical emergency involving the pregnant woman. The bill also requires abortion providers to tell patients obtaining a medication abortion that if they change their minds between the two doses of medicine, they can request an “abortion reversal,” which is medically inaccurate information. There is no scientific basis for the claims of “abortion reversal.”

Utah: In March, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a bill into law that requires doctors to provide anesthesia to women who are having an abortion after 20 weeks in order “to eliminate or alleviate organic pain to the unborn child,” a claim that is scientifically disputed. While anesthesia is generally safe, it does pose a potential health risk to the woman.

And more state restrictions may be coming. Oklahoma lawmakers have placed a bill on Republican Gov. Mary Fallin’s desk that would define providing an abortion as “unprofessional conduct” and make it a felony for doctors to provide abortions. The only exceptions would be if a woman’s life is at risk or if she has had a miscarriage that is not complete. Gov. Fallin has not indicated whether or not she will sign the bill, but if it becomes law it would mean that doctors could lose their medical licenses or go to jail for performing a constitutionally protected medical procedure.

Meanwhile, more states are attempting to defund Planned Parenthood by cutting off their Medicaid contracts. So far, 10 states have defunded Planned Parenthood: Alabama, Arkansas, Arizona, Florida, Louisiana, Kansas, Missouri, Oklahoma, Texas and Wisconsin. In response to these attacks, the Obama Administration recently sent a letter to all state Medicaid offices warning them that it is illegal to terminate Medicaid contracts to Planned Parenthood.

The race for the presidency matters, but let’s not lose sight of what states are currently doing to jeopardize the reproductive health and rights of women. A woman’s reproductive health should not depend on what state she lives in—but increasingly, it does. In case you missed it, check out our recent 50-state report card on reproductive health and rights.

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Photo courtesy of Flickr user Charlotte Cooper licensed under Creative Commons 2.0



Jennie Wetter is the Director of Public Policy at the Population Institute.