Erosion of Reproductive Rights in States Gains Speed

By Erickson, Jan | National NOW Times, Spring 2004 | Go to article overview

Erosion of Reproductive Rights in States Gains Speed


Erickson, Jan, National NOW Times


Since the beginning of 2004, women in Texas have effectively been unable to obtain an abortion past the 16th week of pregnancy. The state legislature has implemented a new requirement that abortions beyond the 16th week must be performed in hospitals or ambulatory surgery centers, not a doctor's office or freestanding clinic. But many of the hospitals in Texas are Catholic-owned and according to Texas Planned Parenthood, not a single ambulatory surgery center performs abortions. For freestanding women's health clinics or doctor's offices to meet all the new (and unnecessary) architectural and equipment upgrades specified by the legislature, the costs would be prohibitive.

Among other restrictions, Texas abortion providers must hand out a pamphlet entitled A Woman's Right to Know, which contains unscientific and inaccurate information about the (false) link between abortion and breast cancer. The brochure suggests that a woman getting an abortion will be psychologically damaged and notes the death rate associated with abortion, but not the much higher death rate associated with childbirth. A new Texas law also increases the intimidation by requiring that abortion providers photocopy the patient's driver's license or other personal identification and keep it on file!

In Utah, a recent statute denies state funding to any hospital or clinic that performs an abortion except in cases of rape, incest or "permanent, irreparable and grave damage" to the woman. As a result, Salt Lake City's University Hospital will no longer terminate pregnancies involving fetuses with fatal deformities.

South Dakota Narrowly Defeats Ban

In South Dakota, the legislature passed an abortion ban that does not even have an exception for rape or incest - and it would be law right now if not for a technicality (see more details below). Proponents expect to pass the bill next year, and were unabashed in their determination that this law will go to the Supreme Court in another attempt to reverse Roe v. Wade - perhaps to a Court where a single resignation has changed the balance against women's rights.

These are just a sample of many reports from the states about the determination to reduce access to abortion services. More than three decades after Roe, we face adeeply threatening political environment.

A virtual tidal wave of anti-abortion and anti-contraception legislation is sweeping across the 50 states, resulting in 380 new state laws since 1995 that limit or deny access to reproductive health services. And many more restrictive bills are being considered now that most state houses and senates are controlled by anti-reproductive rights majorities.

This movement is the result of a deliberate, well-coordinated and well-financed effort by extremist religious and political organizations. These groups are spending tens of millions of dollars to research and draft restrictive bills, pay public relations firms to influence opinion and lobby legislators, and contribute to candidates who oppose women's right to abortion and contraception. Distributing "model" legislation to states, training legislators and activists, and plotting legal strategies are all part of this disciplined and focused operation.

State Legislatures Push Hundreds of Bad Bills

Although many bills that limit women's reproductive health options move through Congress each year, much of the dramatic erosion is taking place at the state level.

In 2003 alone, 558 anti-abortion/anti-contraception measures-a 35 percent increase from the previous year-were considered by the states and 45 of them were adopted. Most dealt with restrictions on minors' access to reproductive health care, biased counseling and mandatory delays, measures granting legal personhood status to embryos and fetuses, initiatives allowing individuals and institutions to refuse to provide abortion and family planning services, and restrictive regulations targeted at abortion providers. …

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