The National Partnership for Women and Families (NPWF) is shining light on a dangerous but common trend: anti-abortion laws that fly in the face of science and reason, and strip women of their reproductive rights. And they’re arming local advocates in the fight to stop them, once and for all.
Since early May, NPWF has worked to expose baseless laws that obstruct abortion care access with an awareness campaign called “Lies into Laws”—a collaborative effort including the Trust Women Foundation, Trust Women South Wind Women’s Center in Kansas and Oklahoma, the Texas Freedom Network Education Fund and Lift Louisiana. The campaign launched just after the Guttmacher Institute published a report revealing that 17 states have at least five abortion restrictions in place that have no scientific merit. In fact, many of the laws are based on outright falsehoods.
The Guttmacher report, which examined 10 types of laws lacking scientific basis, found that 28 states have at least two such restrictions in place. Kansas and Texas have the highest number, with eight each. The Lone Star State would have all 10 but the Supreme Court struck down two laws there in the Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt decision last summer. Courts in Kansas also struck down attempts to pass the same laws there.
“A lot of the public isn’t aware the extent to which politicians tell lies about abortion and about abortion providers,” Sarah Lipton-Lubet, vice president of NPWF, said. “We do this work from the fundamental principle that lies do not belong in healthcare.”
Advocates working with the National Partnership blame anti-abortion messaging. “This is a tactic that the anti-choice movement has been using for many years,” Lipton-Lubet said. “They’re really the originators of the alternative facts, spreading lies and spreading misinformation.” Those advocates have plenty of material to pull from in educating their states—and they intend to do so through an ongoing communication plan with media and elected officials, including print advertising in local newspapers as well as canvassing neighborhoods to have one-on-one conversations about honesty and accuracy in healthcare laws.
Advocates in Texas, Kansas, Louisiana and Oklahoma—states hit hardest by burdensome anti-abortion laws—are currently participating in the education campaign.
“We already increased the number of state senators voting against anti-abortion restrictions by two,” Michelle Erenberg, co-founder of Lift Louisiana, said. “It doesn’t sound like a lot but it is.” Conservative lawmakers, she added, are becoming reluctant to support legislation that “pushes up against the limits of the constitution” because it can cost tax-payers millions of dollars.
In Texas, the maternal mortality rate increased at a rate typical of disaster or war from 2010 to 2012, and 100,000 women attempted to self-abort in 2015 alone. By that time, the restrictive laws that were struck down in the Whole Woman’s Health decision had taken their effect; nearly half the state’s clinics had closed. In their ruling, the Supreme Court noted that “these closures meant fewer doctors, longer waiting times, and increased crowding.”
As of this month, laws in Kansas go so far as to include font size requirements for a mandatory document detailing doctors’ histories for patients, in addition to the eight laws noted in the report. Oklahoma brags seven laws that flout science, including a surgical center provision like that struck down in Texas.
In Louisiana, where half the state’s clinics have also closed, one of the Texas regulations rejected by the Supreme Court, known as an ambulatory surgical center requirement, is still in place despite its unconstitutionality. Women there must also undergo state-mandated counseling and wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion.
“There is not any other field of medicine in Louisiana where doctors are required to give patients false information,” Erenberg said. “The state is forcing [patients and physicians] to jeopardize their relationship.”
While residents of the entire state feel the effects of inadequate and harmful legislation, these laws are extra heinous because most of the burdens put in place affect low-income and rural women, as well as women who live along the border. “It always disproportionately impacts low income people, people of color and people who already face systemic and structural barriers to healthcare,” Lipton-Lubet said. “Enough with peddling lies and misinformation to try and deny women care and stymie our economic security.”