“Bad medicine” laws that implement biased counseling, ultrasound requirements, mandatory delays, medication abortion restrictions and erroneous regulations meant to shutter clinics and target providers undermine access to abortion—and a jarring new study finds that they’re spreading rapidly across the country.
The “Bad Medicine” report by the National Partnership for Women and Families counts a whole seven more states with these laws on the books than in their last report, published in 2016. 44 states have passed at least one type, and 19 have passed all five. California, Oregon, Vermont, New Hampshire and Connecticut stand as the only six states to have no restrictions on abortion access.
“The number and impact of bad medicine laws is truly alarming,” Debra L. Ness, president of the National Partnership, said in a press release. “This report is a powerful call to action to fight back every time elected officials imperil our health, constrain our lives and endanger our communities.”
The report counted biased counseling laws—which require abortion providers to give patients information that is false, biased or irrelevant—in 30 states. In four states, providers must falsely tell patients that abortion could impact future fertility; in five, providers must connect abortion with breast cancer in spite of zero scientific evidence to back up the claim.
Additionally, 27 states have provisions requiring abortion providers to either offer, refer or perform ultrasounds, even though the protocol is not always medically necessary or wanted. Of the 15 states that mandate an ultrasound be performed before an abortion, six require the provider to describe the image—even if the patient objects. Such a requirement deeply pains and humiliates patients, and sometimes even the health care providers.
“The hard part is turning the screen toward a woman who doesn’t want to look at it,”an anonymous physician from Texas told NPWF. “Sometimes I find myself apologizing for what the state requires me to do, saying, ‘You may avert your eyes and cover your ears.’ This is unconscionable: My patient has asked me not do something, and moreover it’s something that serves no medical value—and I, as a physician, am being forced to shame my patient.”
32 states have also passed laws imposing mandatory delays before abortion. For many, the delay is 24 hours—but in Iowa, Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Utah, it’s a whopping 72. To make matters worse, 20 states have also passed measures restricting medication abortion via telemedicine, forbidding caregivers from providing abortion information or medicine remotely over the phone or by video call. With most women forced to travel long distances to abortion clinics, these mandatory delays and bans on remote care disproportionately hurt rural, young and low-income women.
Despite a Supreme Court ruling striking down the omnibus abortion bill HB 2 in Texas, the TRAP laws that policy inspired persist in 41 states. Such laws, which single out abortion clinics and providers for unnecessary requirements that don’t apply to other medical facilities, shutter clinics and raise the cost of care. But most importantly, they prevent nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives and physician assistants from providing abortion care, despite their extensive training.
The rising numbers of bad medicine laws across the country only indicate the need for further pressure on lawmakers at the state and federal levels to take action and protect access to abortion. Often passed under the guise of “protecting women,” these laws don’t promote health or safety—they only serve to strip women of their autonomy and their dignity.
“When anti-abortion lawmakers actively promote junk science and enshrine it into statute, women suffer,” Sarah Lipton-Lubet, vice president for reproductive health and rights at NPWF, declared in a press release. “Bad medicine abortion restrictions are the result of this kind of harmful, ideological policymaking, and it must stop.”