The Growing Tide of State Anti-Abortion Legislation

So far this year, 11 states have successfully passed multiple laws that regulate or restrict abortion, while four additional states have bills that have triumphed through their state houses.  Bills range from banning public funding of abortion under health exchanges created by the federal health care overhaul (Arizona, Mississippi, Tennessee), to banning abortion coverage in the state employees’ health plan (Arizona), to requiring women considering abortion to undergo an ultrasound (Oklahoma, Mississippi, Louisiana, Alabama).

Nebraska recently passed the first law in the nation to ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the basis of fetal pain.  The law is expected to be challenged in court, as the medical community disputes the validity of fetal pain and the Supreme Court has long recognized a woman’s right to choose abortion in the second trimester (weeks 13-27 of pregnancy), when the fetus is still considered inviable.  “It’s a whole new standard,” says Ted Miller, spokesman for Naral Pro-Choice America.  And this new standard may intensify this tide of anti-abortion legislation if it is successful.

The main goal of anti-abortion camp is to overturn Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision which gave women the right to choose abortion before the third trimester of her pregnancy.  While there has not been full-out victory for them, they have made many gains on the state level:

“Ninety percent of pro-life legislation happens at the states,” said Daniel S. McConchie, vice president for government affairs at Americans United for Life, which opposes abortion. “While Congress is the main focus of attention for so many people in the country, state legislatures have greatest impact on daily lives, and life-related legislation is no exception.

The New York Times reports that 370 abortion regulation bills were introduced in individual states this year, “compared with about 350 in each of the previous five years, and 250 a year in the early 1990s.”  They are in response the Supreme Court’s 2007 decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld a federal ban on one late-term abortion procedure and gave legislatures greater leeway to restrict abortion.  Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research organization, predicts that the number of bills passed this year may reach 2005’s high of 34 laws.

The effects of state laws (PDF) are not limited to impacting the lives of women living in the individual states which have restrictive laws; they have the potential of impacting the nation, as they set off “court battles that challenge or limit the scope of Roe” and influence other states to pass similar or duplicate laws.  These laws are designed to limit women’s autonomy and take away their ability to make decisions about their own reproduction. In Pennsylvania, groups such as the Women’s Law Project and Pennsylvanians for Choice fight these restrictive laws; it’s important to support these groups’ efforts as much as possible to push against this tide of anti-woman legislation sweeping the nation.


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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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