State of the States: Abortion Access in 2015

The headline-grabbing attacks on abortion access and reproductive rights in the latter half of 2015—while outrageous—are a continuation of years of extreme hostility in state legislatures. It is the result of a well-coordinated, well-financed political network intent on dismantling our constitutional right to abortion, even if it means restricting access to preventative care, too.

A new report published by the Center for Reproductive Rights, 2015 State of the States: Fighting Back by Pushing Forward, provides a snapshot of where we’re at as we head into the new year. (Read the full report here.)

This year alone, anti-choice lawmakers introduced almost 400 bills and enacted 47 new restrictions on access to reproductive healthcare.

Most of the proposed restrictions fall into one of three categories:

*Strategic targeted over-regulation of healthcare facilities that provide abortion care, such as requiring clinics to renovate buildings to adhere to architectural standards created for ambulatory surgical centers (like the law that went into effect in Pennsylvania in 2012)

*Government intrusion laws that force doctors to lie to patients and perform medically unnecessary procedures, or enact arbitrary waiting periods (At least 35 states now have such laws on the books)

*20-week bans

The anti-choice strategy: repeatedly propose experimental and potentially unconstitutional restrictions. The goal is to force pro-choice advocates and healthcare providers to spend significant money on lawyers to challenge these laws in court. If they don’t challenge these bad laws, clinics are still forced to waste their resources scrambling to comply with an additional layer of unnecessary regulation, whether that means arbitrary architectural upgrades or requesting an unnecessary “admitting privileges” contract with a nearby hospital.

The current battle over abortion access is, in fact, a war of financial attrition, with well-funded right-wing organizations investing in building geographic and financial barriers between poor women and reproductive healthcare.

Another way they are trying to build a financial barrier between working women and reproductive healthcare is by defunding Planned Parenthood. Using discredited propaganda videos as a pretext for inquiry, anti-choice state legislators initiated investigations into Planned Parenthood facilities. In August, Pennsylvania became the fifth state where such an investigation found no wrongdoing.

So far, at least nine state investigations have turned up the same result.

In October, Pennsylvania Rep. Paul Schemel (R-Greencastle) introduced a bill targeting women who rely on Planned Parenthood for preventative care. It has 44 cosponsors.

In summary, this year we’ve seen almost 400 reproductive healthcare restrictions introduced in state legislatures, the coordinated dissemination of misleading anti-choice propaganda and, not coincidentally, a significant in violence against clinics including a targeted attack that wounded nine and killed three people. The alleged shooter told authorities “no more baby parts,” an apparent reference to the videos released this summer. It was recently reported the suspect asked for directions to the clinic.

Meanwhile, targeted harassment of abortion providers and clinic staff is on the rise.

That’s a lot of bad news. It’s clear that in 2015, anti-choice power players are doubling down on attacking women’s access to reproductive healthcare, by any means necessary.

But we’re fighting back.

In the four years since the renewed attack on reproductive rights, pro-choice advocates tired of being forced to constantly defend equal access to reproductive healthcare have set proactive agendas. 2015 saw that vision become a reality through multiple state initiatives, including in Pennsylvania.

From the report:

Policy agendas introduced in Pennsylvania, Washington, Texas, and Ohio promote trust in a patient’s ability to make the decisions that are best for her health, push back against political interference in the patient-provider relationship, and protect clinicians providing essential reproductive health services.

For example, the Pennsylvania Campaign for Women’s Health worked primarily with the bipartisan Women’s Health Caucus to reintroduce an agenda of 13 bills that safeguard the patient-provider relationship, institute workplace protections and accommodations for pregnant workers, and increase the minimum wage.

The Women’s Law Project are founding members of the PA Campaign of the Women’s Health. Despite the onslaught of attacks, we made significant progress in 2015, including public hearings in Harrisburg on Reasonable Accommodations for Pregnant Workers and Sanitary Conditions for Nursing Mothers.

We also saw the re-introduction of the Patient Trust Act. Sponsored by Rep. Dan Frankel, the Patient Trust Act seeks to stop government intrusion bills, such as the one currently in effect in five states that forces doctors to lie to patients by telling them abortion is linked with breast cancer. The Patient Trust Act gives Pennsylvania the opportunity to lead the country in unequivocally telling politicians that doctors aren’t dummies, and they don’t need politicians putting words in their mouths. It is also the keystone of Pennsylvania’s Agenda, because it underscores our demand for evidence-based policies that address real needs of real women and families in Pennsylvania, rather than the ideologically driven anti-woman agenda that got us where are now, which is a state that routinely scores spectacularly low on assessments of women’s health and economic security.

As we close out 2015, the PA Campaign for Women’s Health has blossomed into a statewide coalition with almost 50 member organizations. We are building on the success of 2014, where we successfully advocated for initiatives including a law that protects domestic violence survivors from being evicted for calling 911. Since the Campaign’s launch in Pennsylvania, anti-choice bills have been introduced, but none have passed.

We plan on making a lot more progress in 2016, including writing a brief for the most important abortion case to go before the U.S. Supreme Court in twenty years.

Stay tuned.

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Founded in 1974, the Women’s Law Project is the only public interest law center devoted to women’s rights in Pennsylvania. WLP is a founding member of the PA Campaign for Women’s Health, a growing collaboration of organizations and individuals calling for an end to ideological politics trumping common-sense policy solutions in Pennsylvania. 






About womenslawproject

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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