Going on the Offensive for Abortion Rights

Advocates in red states are switching gears. They’re not just pushing back against anti-choice laws—they’re proposing pro-choice legislation of their own.

Molly Adams

Last June, the Supreme Court ruled in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt that two TRAP (Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider) laws in Texas placed an undue burden on women seeking abortion. Although it isn’t clear exactly how the ruling will impact each individual state, unnecessary restrictions on clinics began to be repealed based on the decision as early as October. A federal judge more recently issued a preliminary injunction to block clinic regulations in Missouri based on the ruling, a move that will likely result in the reopening of three Planned Parenthood clinics in the state.

Hellerstedt set a precedent—one that reproductive rights advocates are holding their states to.

“The Supreme Court decision doesn’t automatically strike all the laws across the country,” Sarah Gillooly, policy director of the American Civil Liberties Union in North Carolina, explained to Salon. “In order for the decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt to be real and enacted across the country, it’s going to require a two-part approach.” What she means is that every individual abortion law in every state must be challenged—but state legislatures could also start codifying Hellerstedt while repealing them.

At least five red states are doing just that. TexasMissouriGeorgia, Virginia and North Carolina recently proposed acts that repeal anti-abortion laws. The laws, each called a Whole Women’s Health Act, undo the damage of anti-abortion policies while, in some cases, expanding access and care.

In Virginia, advocates put forth legislation to remove six current regulations—including a requirement in place that says three different physicians must approve third trimester abortions and another forcing women to obtain ultrasounds before an abortion. The bill also “provide[d] that any statute that places a burden on a woman’s access to abortion without conferring any legitimate health benefit is unenforceable.”

That act failed—but even when the red-state actions fall short, they make an impact locally on how people talk about and view the issue of abortion rights. In addition, conservative politicians going up against abortion and birth control access know their reputations are at stake if more and more activists are pressuring their states to do more to protect women’s access to abortion.

“We are seeing the Whole Woman’s Health Acts in particular being introduced in some states deeply hostile to reproductive rights,” Amanda Allen, senior state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights also told Salon, “where advocates are using the bill to expose the very real harms caused by abortion restrictions in their state.”

The energy red-state abortion rights activists are generating is slowly shifting the conversation on reproductive rights—and helping women reclaim power over their own bodies.



Michele Sleighel is a former Research Assistant at the Feminist Majority Foundation. She has an MA in Communication at the University of Texas in San Antonio and a BS in PR from the University of Texas in Austin and is very proud of her El Paso roots. Find her on Twitter @MicheleSleighel