Tuesday marks the 40th anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, which guaranteed women’s constitutional right to legal abortion services. But even though Roe has been in place for four decades, women’s reproductive rights aren’t safe. In fact, over the past two years, anti-choice legislators passed an overwhelming 135 new abortion restrictions in 30 different states — making 2011 and 2012 the worst years for women’s reproductive freedom since abortion first became legal in 1973.
Rather than attempting to throw out Roe altogether, abortion opponents often limit reproductive rights indirectly. Even though abortion is already an incredibly safe medical procedure, the lawmakers pushing for new state-level restrictions claim they want to protect women by making abortion safer. Here are five tactics that GOP lawmakers are currently employing to circumvent Roe v. Wade and undermine reproductive rights across the country:
1. Over-regulating abortion clinics. Under the guise of ensuring that women’s health clinics are up to code, anti-choice lawmakers are subjecting abortion clinics and doctors to burdensome restrictions that aren’t placed on other medical professionals — a method called the “Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.” Clinics are often forced to close when they can’t afford to make the expensive, unnecessary updates that TRAP laws require. In Mississippi, where TRAP laws threaten to shut down the state’s last remaining abortion clinic, the Republican governor has even admitted his motives aren’t rooted in a concern for women’s safety — he told a group of anti-abortion activists earlier this month that his real goal is to shut down the only reproductive health resource available to women seeking abortions.
2. Imposing mandatory waiting periods for women seeking abortions. It’s much harder to get an abortion than it is to get a gun in several states, largely thanks to mandatory waiting periods that require women to make multiple trips to a clinic to receive the voluntary medical procedure. Thirty five states currently require women seeking abortions to undergo counseling — which is often simply an attempt to shame women out of having the procedure — and 24 of those states require women to wait a full 24 hours after receiving the counseling to actually have an abortion. Utah goes even further and imposes a 72-hour waiting period on women seeking abortions. Studies have shown that nearly 90 percent of women are “confident in their decision” to have an abortion, and counseling and waiting periods don’t do anything to change their minds.
3. Restricting late-term abortions. The Supreme Court granted legal abortion rights until the point of fetal viability, generally considered to occur around week 23 or 24 of pregnancy. But some anti-choice lawmakers are attempting to move the goal posts with “fetal pain” measures that would ban abortion at just 20 weeks, based on the scientifically-disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point. Seven states currently have 20-week bans in place, and three more — Arizona, Georgia, and Louisiana — enacted unconstitutional bans on late-term abortions last year that don’t include exceptions for the health of the woman. The fetal pain laws in Georgia and Arizona are currently being blocked from taking effect while they’re under consideration in court.
4. Pushing the myth of “coerced abortion.” Just like TRAP laws that restrict abortion clinics aren’t actually intended to safeguard women’s health, regulations that prevent women from being “coerced” into having an abortion aren’t actually enacted for women’s benefit. In order to justify additional imposing additional road blocks to reproductive services, anti-abortion activists cite the high numbers of women being forced into having abortions against their will — but there isn’t any scientific evidence to back up those claims. In fact, anti-coercion policies simply make abortion more difficult to access without actually addressing real issues of domestic and sexual violence, which are typically what causes women to be forced into reproductive decisions against their will. Nonetheless, at least 11 states considered “coerced abortion” laws in 2012.
5. Redefining the medical terms of pregnancy. In order to place additional abortion restrictions on women while Roe still stands, the most extreme anti-choice advocates are trying to redefine pregnancy. Lawmakers in Ohio and Wyoming have proposed radical “heartbeat” initiatives that would redefine the point of viability to ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected — which typically occurs around 6 weeks of pregnancy, before some women even realize they’re pregnant and at least 17 weeks before the medically accepted definition of viability. Likewise, far-right “personhood” proponents want to redefine embryos as full U.S. citizens, which would result in banning all abortions, some forms of contraception, and potentially even invitro fertilization. Heartbeat and personhood measures are so extreme that they haven’t found much success even among the anti-choice community, but that hasn’t stopped Republican members of the 113th Congress from introducing a personhood bill already.