CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
Five states — Idaho, Kansas, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Texas — have spent a combined $3,228,000 defending strict anti-abortion laws over the past several years. But it’s not like that money has no better purpose. Here’s a tally of what these states are spending the money to defend — and what they could get instead.
Kansas has spent more than $1 million to have private law firms defend anti-abortion laws enacted over the last three years, including $179,000 in attorneys’ fees and expenses for federal and state lawsuits last year.
What Kansans are getting for that money: Kansas has enacted some of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the nation, including an omnibus measure to block tax breaks for abortion providers, require doctors to tell women about the disputed link between abortion and breast cancer, and define life as beginning at conception in the state constitution. The state has also attempted to defund Planned Parenthood and restrict elective insurance coverage for abortion.
What they could get instead: After Gov. Sam Brownback (R) signed tax cuts into law, education spending was estimated to drop $216 per student on top of a $745 decline between 2008 and 2013. The state is spending so little on public education that last year a panel of state judges ruled it has to increase funding by $440 million. That million-dollar figure spent on defending anti-abortion laws could also go to restoring some programs Brownback vetoed, such as the Local Environmental Protection Program, which cost $800,000. That program helped monitor water systems, and without it state officials warned that the state could see more health problems, lawsuits, and local fees for installing septic tanks and other systems.
RH Reality Check recently uncovered that the attorney general’s office has spent about $650,000 in taxpayer money litigating anti-abortion laws.
What Texans are getting for that money: Texas made national headlines this past summer for enacting a stringent package of abortion restrictions that is forcing abortion clinics across the Lone Star State to close their doors, leaving thousands of women without access to legal abortion care. Since then, the state has spent $120,000 defending the new law. Texas has also shelled out money to defend a controversial law requiring abortion doctors to show women the image of their ultrasound before performing the procedure. Of course, this doesn’t even include the other attacks of reproductive rights that Texas has advanced over the past several years, like its successful push to slash funding for family planning services and defund Planned Parenthood.
What they could get instead: Programs are still climbing out of deep holes created when the state had a $27 billion budget shortfall in 2011. Although it’s now dealing with a likely $8 billion surplus, that won’t make up for the money needed to fund critical programs. It slashed public education by $5.4 billion and last year the Texas Education Agency needed $630 million to pay school districts what they were owed from the Foundation School Program — perhaps a better use of that $648,340.13 spent on its anti-abortion law. The Medicaid program needed $4.4 billion. The state recently converted 80 miles of paved road to gravel because budget shortfalls are blocking necessary safety upgrades — it will fall $5 billion short of what it needs to maintain roads.
RH Reality Check also uncovered the fact that North Dakota has already spent more than $200,000 defending its anti-abortion laws, and the attorney general got approval for a $400,000 budget increase to cover the costs.
What North Dakotans are getting for that money: This past year, North Dakota approved the most stringent abortion ban this country has seen since Roe v. Wade, passing a measure to outlaw abortion after just six weeks of pregnancy. Lawmakers also approved new restrictions on abortion clinics that could force the state’s last abortion provider to shut down. Gov. Jack Dalrymple (R) was perfectly aware that these laws would cost taxpayers. He admitted he approved the six-week ban specifically because he wanted to provoke a court battle that could test the limits of Roe. Some women in the state actually assume that he’s already succeeded and abortion is now illegal.
What they could get instead: The state’s oil boom has come with budget surpluses, but new costs are also arising, such as housing shortages and a need to upgrade infrastructure and repair roads. The state’s homeless population has grown more than three-fold since 2008, far more than any other state. State Sen. Mac Schneider (D) has said those should take priority over “expensive and potentially protracted abortion litigation.”
South Dakota has spent $378,000 thus far on an abortion law from 2005, and the attorney general has predicted that one passed in 2011 could cost anywhere from $1.75 million to $4 million.
What South Dakotans are getting for that money: Somewhat of a pioneer in restricting reproductive rights, South Dakota enacted five anti-abortion provisions in 2005 that the state has been defending ever since. One of the most controversial measures forced doctors to tell their patients information that was specifically intended to dissuade them from choosing an abortion, including the false notion that the procedure carries a risk of suicide. In 2011, the state enacted what was then the longest abortion waiting period in the nation, requiring women to wait 72 hours. Since then, the state has extended it even further, excluding weekends and holidays from the three-day period.
What they could get instead: The state was one of the hardest hit by sequestration cuts last year, as it gets the largest percentage of its budget from the federal government of any state. It was estimated to lose $1 million from primary and secondary education and another from special education programs, $200,000 for Meals on Wheels, and other programs. While much of this funding has been restored in Congress’s recent budget, those agencies are likely still climbing out of the hole — and not all of it is coming back. Meanwhile, like others, South Dakota slashed spending in 2011 to address a $127 million budget shortfall and has yet to restore all of those funds.
The state has spent more than $1 million since 2000 defending abortion laws.
What Idahoans are getting for that money: For more than a decade, Idaho has been litigating several stringent pieces of anti-abortion legislation. The state has fought to uphold measures banning abortions after 20 weeks, requiring teens to get parental consent before having an abortion, and denying abortion coverage to low-income women on Medicaid even for medically necessary procedures. The state also racked up over $375,000 prosecuting a woman who was accused of having an illegal abortion after she ended a pregnancy with abortion-inducing drugs she bought on the internet.
What they could get instead: Idaho has cut education spending per student by 19 percent since 2008, which is the fourth largest cut in the country. It also made huge budget cuts to deal with the recession, and last year’s budget didn’t restore all of the lost funds.