New Report: The Exponential Rise of Abortion Restrictions

If you follow reproductive health policy at all, you have likely heard about the barrage of abortion restrictions implemented in recent years as part of the current anti-choice strategy called the “state strategy,” or the “the incremental strategy.”

The anti-choice incremental strategy goes like this: anti-choice bill factories draft a wide variety of state-level bills that, cumulatively, are designed to force abortion clinics to close so that poor and working-class women, who disproportionately experience unplanned pregnancies, can’t access safe and medically supervised abortion care.

Illustration: Guttmacher Institute

Illustration: Guttmacher Institute

The false belief underpinning this discriminatory strategy is that poor or working-class woman who can’t find or afford regulated abortion care will give up and carry the pregnancy to term. That is the belief that enables a system of class discrimination to masquerade as “pro-life.”

However, data from American history prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973 and from global public health research demonstrate that, while some women seeking abortion who can’t afford or find supervised medical care will simply give up, often they will either take the matter into their own hands or seek out illegal, potentially unsafe, services.

Anti-choice activists ignore the health and safety of women they are forcing to seek out rogue providers, while claiming the legislation forcing them to do so will improve women’s health. This deceit requires ignoring data, distributed by the state Department of Health, that reveal a distinct lack of evidence for this claim. Regulated abortion is a safe procedure with extremely low complication rates, which do not get any lower by imposing regulations such as requiring hospital-grade elevators and expensive HVAC upgrades.

From a new Guttmacher Institute report:

In the 43 years since the U.S. Supreme Court handed down Roe v. Wade, states have enacted 1,074 abortion restrictions. Of these, 288 (27%) have been enacted just since 2010.

Five types of restrictions—limits on medication abortion, private insurance coverage and later abortions as well as expanded requirements for parental involvement and abortion counseling—account for more than half of the new restrictions adopted over this period.

The sheer number of new restrictions enacted in 2015— a total of 57— makes it clear that the sustained assault on abortion access is showing no signs of abating. Moreover, the Supreme Court’s impending consideration of restrictions recently enacted in Texas may well change the standards under which abortion restrictions are evaluated, potentially ushering in a new legal landscape for abortion going forward.

On March 2, oral arguments will be held in Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case that will inform the landscape of abortion restrictions for years to come. The Women’s Law Project recently submitted a friend-of-the-court brief to the Supreme Court of the United States on behalf of 10 abortion providers in Pennsylvania.

Abortion providers in Pennsylvania, where women suffered under Gosnell’s hand, have a particular responsibility to speak out against these schemes. The amici curiae brief, filed in the Supreme Court of the United States, specifically refutes the main justification Texas lawmakers have used to support the Texas regulatory scheme: that such a scheme will stop the next Kermit Gosnell.

In Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, the justices will review two provisions of HB2, a Texas law designed to shut down clinics that provide safe, legal abortion services under the guise of improving women’s health. In doing so, they will answer the question reproductive rights advocates have been asking for the last several years: If the Constitution protects the right to abortion, how can our courts uphold laws that close down safe abortion providers and thereby deny many women access to care?

Stay tuned.

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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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