2013 hasn’t been a great year for reproductive rights. Ever since 2010, abortion opponents have imposed a flurry of state-level legislation intended to slowly chip away at abortion access, and that trend certainly continued this year.
But women’s health advocates also believe there was something different about 2013. This year, a far-right contingent of the anti-choice community appeared to abandon their incremental strategy — in which they undermine women’s access to abortion bit by bit, largely with indirect laws that don’t strike at the heart of Roe v. Wade — and get bolder. They started pushing for extremely harsh abortion restrictions that fly in the face of the constitutional right to choose, and they got more serious about shutting down abortion clinics one by one. According to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), lawmakers in more than 25 states proposed some kind of outright ban on abortion this year.
And they were largely successful. Here’s what the anti-choice community managed to accomplish in 2013:
1. North Dakota and Arkansas approved the harshest abortion bans in the nation.
In March, Arkansas enacted a 12-week abortion ban, cutting off access to reproductive care far before the parameters established under Roe v. Wade, which guarantees legal abortion rights until around 24 weeks of pregnancy. At the time, it was the harshest abortion ban in the country. But not to be outdone, anti-choice lawmakers in North Dakota soon surpassed that record. Later that month, North Dakota enacted a six-week abortion ban, outlawing the procedure at a point before many women even realize they’re pregnant. North Dakota’s governor admitted that he approved that law because he wants to provoke a Supreme Court challenge to Roe. Both laws are currently awaiting their day in court.
2. Texas passed a sweeping law that’s forced one third of the state’s clinics to shut down.
CREDIT: Eric Gay/AP
Over the last six months, Texas is the state that’s most frequently landed in the headlines because of its abortion policy. This summer, as Texas lawmakers considered a package of stringent abortion restrictions that inspired massive grassroots protests, the fight captured national attention. Despite the outcry against the proposed measure — one poll estimated that 80 percent of Texas voters opposed the anti-choice bill — it passed, and was upheld by Texas’ extremely conservative appeals court. It began going into effect at the beginning of November.
That’s created a bleak landscape for the estimated 26 million people who live in the Lone Star State. About one third of the state’s abortion clinics have shut down, and the remaining ones are dealing with huge patient loads while operating at a reduced capacity. According to the ACLU’s estimations, about 9 million Texans don’t live within easy access to a nearby clinic anymore, a new reality that’s taking the biggest toll on low-income and rural women in the state.
3. South Dakota, home to the nation’s longest abortion waiting period, extended it even further.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Nati Harnik
In South Dakota, women are required to wait 72 hours before they’re allowed to have an abortion, a requirement that’s intended to give them the opportunity to think about their decision and ultimately change their minds. Waiting periods are condescending anti-choice policies that have spread across the country, and typically mandate a 24-hour wait. But in South Dakota, women must wait three full days before proceeding with an abortion procedure — and this year, lawmakers voted to exclude weekends and holidays from that time period. Apparently, women can’t think on weekends. The new requirement means that some women won’t be able to access abortion for six days, if they first visit a clinic right before a three-day holiday weekend.
Studies have proven that mandatory waiting periods don’t actually influence women’s decisions at all, since the majority of women seeking abortions have already made up their own minds before seeking out a doctor.
4. Abortion opponents consistently refused to make exceptions for rape victims.
The issue of rape and abortion access has become particularly contentious over the past year, after several Republican lawmakers made controversial comments on the subject in the lead-up to the 2012 election. At least in terms of messaging, this tends to be a losing area for abortion opponents, since Americans overwhelmingly favor legal abortion access for victims of sexual assault. But in terms of policy, there were lots of advancements in this area. The majority of state-level abortion restrictions enacted in 2013 didn’t include an exception for rape victims. Even on a national level, when the House advanced a 20-week abortion ban, lawmakers only added a rape exception as an afterthought following a public outcry. Despite the outrage over Todd Akin, his worldview is prevailing.
Indeed, this issue came to a head very recently. Earlier this week, Michigan lawmakers approved an anti-choice measure that requires women to purchase a separate insurance ride if they want abortion coverage, even in cases of rape or incest. Opponents have decried the measure as “rape insurance.”
5. Mississippi’s governor tried to end abortion for good in his state — and actually admitted what he was doing.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Phelan M. Ebenhack
At the very beginning of the year, Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant (R) acknowledged something that most anti-choice lawmakers prefer to leave unspoken: His goal isn’t to make abortion safer. He’s trying to end abortion for good.
Mississippi only has one abortion left in the entire state, and it’s been on the brink of shutting down ever since state lawmakers enacted stringent regulations requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals. That’s a medically unnecessary requirement, and most abortion doctors aren’t able to comply with it — so it’s an effective way to force them to stop practicing. On the surface, though, the anti-choice community typically claims admitting privileges are simply intended to ensure patient safety. Bryant acknowledged that’s not exactly true. “My goal is of course to shut it down,” he said in reference to the state’s lone clinic.
Even though Mississippi’s only clinic has managed to hang on — in April, a federal judge temporarily blocked the state from enforcing the stringent law — anti-choice groups are still fighting to shut it down.
6. State lawmakers pulled out all the stops to sneak through unpopular anti-choice laws.
CREDIT: AP Photo/Tamir Kalifa
One of the things that defined 2013 was the unorthodox manner by which many of these new abortion restrictions made it into law. Many of this year’s anti-choice legislation was extremely unpopular among voters, inspired massive protests, and got approved anyway because lawmakers pulled out all the stops.
Again, Texas is the best example of this. After a proposed anti-abortion law failed to advance during the regular session, Gov. Rick Perry (R) simply called multiple special sessions over the summer to give lawmakers more time to push it through. This process involved rushing the bill through in the middle of the night and cutting off public testimony. The legislature spent so much time focusing on passing the abortion restrictions that they didn’t have time to get anything else done, like pass a transportation bill to keep the roads paved, so Perry ended up needing to call lawmakers back for a third special session in the summer.
But the Lone Star State is hardly alone. Ohio enacted harsh abortion restrictions by attaching them to an unrelated budget bill. North Carolina forced abortion restrictions through as a rider on a motorcycle safety bill. Lawmakers in Arkansas and Michigan circumvented their top state executives to enact abortion laws without gubernatorial approval. “These extreme restrictions are so unpopular that politicians can’t pass them through the regular democratic process. Instead, they’re using every trick in the book,” Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s Cecile Richards recently noted in a statement.