States Enact a Record-Breaking 90 Abortion Restrictions So Far This Year: “An All-Out Assault Against Abortion Rights”

The previous record was in 2011 when state legislators passed 89 abortion restrictions—and 2021 is only half over.

States Enact a Record-Breaking 90 Abortion Restrictions So Far This Year: “An All-Out Assault Against Abortion Rights”
Outside the Supreme Court after the decision on Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt Texas abortion case in June 2016. (Adam Fagen / Flickr)

The Guttmacher Institute released its annual mid-year state policy trends report on Thursday, July 1, revealing that states have enacted more abortion restrictions in the first six months of 2021 than in any other full year since the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade in 1973. 

“With an unprecedented 90 abortion restrictions enacted across 18 states, 2021 has become the worst year for abortion rights and access in U.S. history,” said report co-author Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher Institute’s principal policy associate.

The previous record was in 2011 when state legislators passed 89 abortion restrictions—and 2021 is only half over.

“If you are not enraged, you are not paying attention,” said Nash. “The nearly 600 abortion restrictions enacted over the past decade—and now a record 90 in the first half of this year alone—are part of a coordinated anti-abortion campaign with the end goal of banning abortion across the county.”

States passed a range of abortion bans, including near-total abortion bans, six-week abortion bans, reason-based bans, and “trigger” bans that come into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade falls. States also restricted medication abortion, in some cases banning telehealth for abortion, and enacted targeted regulation of abortion providers, known as TRAP laws. 

“The 2021 abortion restrictions amplify the harm of earlier ones,” according to the Guttmacher report. “Each additional restriction increases patients’ logistic, financial and legal barriers to care, especially in regions where entire clusters of states are hostile to abortion.”

These laws have passed amid legislators introducing a record-breaking number of bills to restrict abortion—561 restrictions across 47 states since January, including 165 abortion bans (as of June 7, 2021).

The Ohio governor signed into law the record-breaking 90th anti-abortion law on June 30, including a provision allowing the withdrawal of public funding from rape crisis centers that counsel victims on abortion options. 

“These coordinated attacks on abortion rights are an unprecedented threat to reproductive rights,” said Nash. “Between the record number of anti-abortion laws enacted, uniquely cruel twists to already harmful restrictions, and the Supreme Court agreeing to take on a blatantly unconstitutional threat to Roe, 2021 has clearly become a defining year for abortion rights in the United States.”

States Enact a Record-Breaking 90 Abortion Restrictions So Far This Year: “An All-Out Assault Against Abortion Rights”
A rally against abortion bans in Seattle in 2019. (Wikimedia Commons)

In May, the Supreme Court has announced it will consider a case involving Mississippi law banning abortion after 15 weeks, despite uniform lower-court decisions striking down such bans, including in the Mississippi case. Supreme Court precedent prohibits states from banning abortion before viability, generally at 24 to 26 weeks of pregnancy.

The Supreme Court’s decision to review the Mississippi ban is an ominous sign for abortion rights supporters. With Trump’s three recent appointees to the court, there is now a 6–3 supermajority of justices who have declared their opposition to abortion rights. 

“We’re seeing right-wing ideologues engage in an all-out assault against abortion rights as part of a broad attack on basic human rights that also includes a wave of voter suppression laws and attacks on LGBTQ people, particularly transgender youth,” said Nash. “All of these attacks are based on an undemocratic doctrine of coercion and control. While the Trump-Pence administration may be out of office, their legacy of appointing hundreds of federal judges—and three Supreme Court justices—remains.”

Nash predicts that states will pass even more abortion restrictions in the second-half of the year, buoyed by the prospect of the court overturning Roe.

Reason for Hope: Some States Pass Laws to Expand Abortion Access and Improve Maternal Health

Despite many states passing laws restriction abortion rights, other states have enacted policies that protect and expand access to abortion rights, according to the Guttmacher report, including:

  • New Mexico repealed its pre-Roe abortion ban so that it cannot be enforced if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns abortion rights.

  • Virginia repealed the abortion coverage ban in its state insurance exchange.

  • A new law in Hawaii permits advanced practice nurses to provide both medication and procedural abortion, also known as surgical abortion, in the first trimester.

  • In Washington, college health insurance plans that cover maternity care must now also cover abortion care.

  • In Colorado, a new law allows survivors of sexual violence who rely on Medicaid to access covered care through providers across the state, whereas previously survivors were only able to use their Medicaid to cover abortion care at one provider in the Denver metro area.

Several states are also passing laws to improve maternal health and decrease maternal mortality, including increasing Medicaid coverage, improving health services for those who are incarcerated, and expanding the work of state maternal mortality review committees.

As abortion rights diverge across the states—with some states further restricting abortion rights while other states are expanding them—women will have increasingly divergent access to abortion health care. Women in states with abortion restrictions will suffer negative health consequences as a result, making passage of the recently-reintroduced Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) more urgent than ever. The federal legislation would codify Roe v. Wade in law and establish abortion rights for patients and providers in all 50 states. 

“It is undeniable: We have a two-tiered system for reproductive health care in the United States and it is getting worse. The stakes are as high as they have ever been,” testified president and CEO of Physicians for Reproductive Health Dr. Jamila Perritt at a recent U.S. Senate hearing on WHPA. “Laws like the ones WHPA would protect against are not about health care or safety; they are about control. Politics has no place in the healthcare I provide.”

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About

Carrie N. Baker, J.D., Ph.D., is the Sylvia Dlugasch Bauman Chair of American Studies and a professor in the program for the study of women and gender at Smith College. She is a contributing editor at Ms. magazine. Her 2007 book The Women's Movement Against Sexual Harassment won the National Women’s Studies Association Sara A. Whaley Book Prize. Her second book, Fighting the U.S. Youth Sex Trade: Gender, Race, and Politics, tells the story of activism against youth involvement in the sex trade in the United States between 1970 and 2015. You can contact Dr. Baker at cbaker@msmagazine.com.