by Julie Rovner
Protesters against new regulations limiting abortion rights rally outside the Statehouse in Topeka, Kan., last Sept.
If it seemed like 2011 was a big year for laws restricting abortion, it was.
In fact, according to "Who Decides? The Status of Women's Reproductive Rights In the U.S.," the 21st annual report
compiled by the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, the 69
laws enacted restricting a woman's reproductive rights were just one
short of the record set in 1999. "The
bottom line here is that elections matter," said NARAL President and
CEO Nancy Keenan. "When you have a change of anti-choice politicians
sitting in the statehouse, it affects women's' lives." In
fact, the dramatic increase in laws restricting abortion and other
reproductive health matters shouldn't have come as much of a surprise
given the results of the 2010 elections, noted NARAL Policy Director Donna Crane. After
the sweeping success of the Tea Party, only six states have governments
where both houses of the legislature and the governor support abortion
rights, while 19 states have a governor and majority of the legislature
opposed to abortion. The states that
passed the largest number of abortion restrictions in 2011 all got new,
anti-abortion GOP governors in 2009 or 2010: Florida, Arizona and
Kansas. Interestingly, however,
those states don't match the list of the top "pro-life" states as ranked
today by the anti-abortion group Americans United for Life.
AUL, which ranked states not just according to anti-abortion
legislation but also issues including euthanasia, cloning and stem-cell
research, put Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Pennsylvania at the top of its
list. Bringing up the rear were Hawaii, California and Washington. Meanwhile, the NARAL report shows that the 69 anti-abortion laws fell broadly into five separate categories.
1. Mandatory ultrasound laws.
These laws, now passed by eight states, require a physician to perform
an ultrasound on a pregnant women before performing an abortion, even if
it is not medically indicated and the woman does not request it. 2. Abortion insurance coverage bans.
These laws, now passed by 16 states, ban abortion coverage by private
health insurers. Some apply to all health insurers in a state, some to
the new health [url=http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=126000118]"exchanges[/url]" that will be created by the Affordable Care Act. 3. Nebraska copycat bans. In 2010, Nebraska banned
most abortions after 20 weeks gestation, on the contested theory that
it marks the point in pregnancy when a fetus can feel pain. So far at
least five more states — Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Alabama — have joined Nebraska in enacting similar laws. 4. Race and sex selection laws.
These are laws that make it a crime for physicians to fail to ensure
that abortions are not being done purely for race or gender selection
reasons. Arizona passed such a law in March 2011, joining three other states that had older laws already on the books. 5. Affiliation bans.
These laws seek to bar abortion providers (often, but not exclusively
Planned Parenthood) from receiving state funds for family planning or
other services. Three states passed new laws in 2011, bringing to 11 the
number of states with such laws in place, although four are currently
being blocked by court order. And action is already heating up for 2012, say both sides. Several states are looking at [url=http://www.npr.org/2011/06/01/136850622/abortion-foes-push-to-redefine-personhood]"personhood" ballot amendments[/url],
which define life as beginning at fertilization. Such laws would not
only ban all abortions with no exception, but also many forms of birth
control. Meanwhile, the Ohio Senate is expected to move early this year on a bill to ban abortion at the point the fetal heartbeat can be detected – about eight weeks into pregnancy. The bill passed the Ohio House last year.
bill "would outlaw abortion at a point in pregnancy when most women
aren't even aware they're pregnant," said Kellie Copeland, executive
director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio. And it would almost certainly prompt a challenge to the Supreme Court's landmark Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion. That decision marks its 39th anniversary this Sunday.
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