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Five States Spending Thousands To Defend Abortion Laws That Could Use The Money Elsewhere

By Bryce Covert

"Five States Spending Thousands To Defend Abortion Laws That Could Use The Money Elsewhere"

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lawsuit moneyState budgets are slowly bouncing back from the Great Recession, when many saw tax revenue plunge at the same time that they had to lay out more money for unemployed people who needed benefits. Yet even with recent increases in revenue, they are still likely more than 3 percent below where they were before the recession, and much of the growth is in increases that are one time only.

But even with their budgets in such a fragile condition, Republican governors aren’t shying away from costly legal battles to defend their extreme abortion restrictions. Here are five that are spending exorbitant funds who could put that money to better use elsewhere:

South Dakota: The state has already spent $378,000 to defend an abortion law that went into effect in 2005 as of last year. Now the attorney general is predicting that a law it passed in 2011 will cost anywhere from $1.75 million to $4 million.

Meanwhile, the state slashed spending in 2011 to cope with a $127 million shortfall, particularly for schools and medical services for the poor, and the most recent budget falls far short of making up those lost funds. At the same time, the state has the highest percentage of its budget coming from federal funding than any other in the country, making it particularly vulnerable to sequestration cuts. It was estimated to lose over a million dollars each for primary and secondary education funding as well as special education programs, about $1,150,000 to ensure clean water and air quality, and more than $200,000 for Meals on Wheels, among other cuts.

Idaho: The state has spent more than $1 million since 2000 to defend abortion limits, including $376,000 last week to cover legal fees for a woman who sued the state after being charged for an illegal abortion.

Similar to South Dakota, the state made huge reductions to deal with the recession, and Gov. Butch Otter’s (R) budget for 2013 didn’t restore all of the cuts. On top of that, the state has cut per-student education spending by 19 percent since 2008, making its cuts the fourth-largest among all states. The state is also feeling the impacts of sequestration. Its top federal judges have warned that the cuts threaten the court’s ability to “continue to even function as a court and an independent branch of government.” The state was estimated to lose more than $3 million in primary and secondary education funding as well as nearly $3 million for special education, as well as more than $1 million each for Army and Air Force funding, among other things.

Kansas: The state spent $769,000 defending its abortion limits between January 2011 and June of this year, and the total sum will almost certainly top $1 million, as the attorney general has requested $500,000 more.

Yet it became the first without an arts agency in 2011 when Gov. Sam Brownback (R) vetoed funding for the Kansas Arts Commission, cutting off $1.2 million in federal and regional arts funding. Spending just $689,000 on the agency would have kept it operational. He also eliminated an environmental protection program meant to protect water systems and drinking water that would have received $800,000 in funding. And he cut back education spending so much that a state court ruled it is short changing students.

North Dakota: Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) signed the most stringent abortion restrictions in the nation into law in March specifically to draw out a legal battle that would challenge Roe v. Wade. The state’s attorney general requested and was approved to get a $400,000 budget increase in order to defend the state from the lawsuits that will inevitably arise.

While the state’s oil boom has brought in budget surpluses, it has also come with other costs, such as increased crime, housing shortages, and a need to repair roads and upgrade infrastructure. State Sen. Mac Schneider (D) has said those should take priority over “expensive and potentially protracted abortion litigation.” Sequestration will also impact the state just like all others.

Arkansas: The state is gearing up to spend money from its coffers to defend a new ban on abortions after 12 weeks.

Meanwhile, it is number one when it comes to hunger and food insecurity among the elderly, yet the local Meals on Wheels programs have been cut for three years and will now have to drop the number of meals they serve by more than 100,000 thanks to sequestration. The automatic federal cuts have also meant the closing of a career center and will bring other impacts.

While the thousands — and in some cases, millions — of dollars spent to defend these restrictive laws wouldn’t solve all of these states’ problems if redirected to other causes, they illustrate that when Republican governors say there just isn’t any funding for public services, they are actually making choices about where the money goes.

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