CREDIT: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta
2013 hasn’t yet drawn to a close, but abortion opponents across the country are already laying the groundwork for the next fights in the new year. The past several years have seen record-breaking numbers of state-level restrictions on women’s right to choose. If the anti-choice community has its way, that trend will continue into 2014.
Although most state legislatures reconvene in the middle of January, some lawmakers aren’t waiting until then — they’re pre-filing anti-abortion bills, preparing ballot initiatives, and ensuring the issue will be at the top of the agenda once their colleagues return. Here’s where the next abortion battles are already getting underway:
This week, state Sen. David Sater (R) pre-filed a measure that would extend Missouri’s abortion waiting period to 72 hours. Although mandatory waiting periods are a popular anti-choice attack, they’re typically 24 hours long. Just two states, South Dakota and Utah, impose three-day waiting periods — and Sater hopes Missouri will join them.
Sater believes it’s important to extend the waiting period to make sure that women don’t regret their decision to end a pregnancy. “We’re talking about just two more days, and it should just give maybe some more time for reflection on making the right decision,” the lawmaker explained. In reality, however, the vast majority of women are confident about their decision to end a pregnancy before they approach an abortion doctor, and condescending anti-choice policies don’t change their minds.
Waiting periods simply place an additional burden on the low-income women who struggle to take time off work and secure transportation to make the trip to a clinic. Indeed, according to Missouri’s Planned Parenthood affiliate, the only provider currently performing elective abortions in the state is located in St. Louis, and one fifth of its patients travel more than 100 miles to get to the clinic.
The anti-choice community in Tennessee has been preparing for 2014 for months. Abortion opponents are hoping to rally support for Amendment 1, a ballot initiative that will be up for popular vote next year. If Amendment 1 is approved, lawmakers in the state will have the power to instate the additional abortion restrictions, like mandatory waiting periods and forced counseling sessions, that the Tennessee Supreme Court blocked back in 2000. The state’s highest court determined that those type of anti-choice laws go too far to restrict a woman’s right to choose, but the ballot initiative seeks to reverse that decision.
Abortion opponents are pulling out all the stops. This past fall, the Duggar family — famous for starring in a reality show about their life with 19 children — made public appearances in the state to drum up support for Amendment 1. At the time, the Duggars explained that even though the measure isn’t up for a vote until next November, it was important to start mobilizing immediately. “Tennessee is the only state in the Southeast that does not have a waiting period for a woman before she has an abortion, and it does not have informed consent,” Jim Bob Duggar noted. “Many women are having a lifetime of regret.”
Earlier this month, state Sen. Larry Grooms (R) pre-filed a measure that would require abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital in order to continue practicing. Anti-choice lawmakers typically claim that policy is will help ensure that doctors are providing safe care; but in reality, these laws are specifically intended to force abortion clinics to shut down. Medical professionals agree that admitting privileges are an unnecessary requirement — nonetheless, 14 states currently impose it anyway.
It’s not hard to see the dangerous effects of regulating abortion doctors out of business. In a high-profile battle this past summer, Texas enacted exactly this type of requirement. It took effect at the beginning of November, and at least one-third of the abortion doctors in the state were immediately forced to stop practicing. The clinics that have managed to remain open now have huge patient loads and are struggling to keep up with the demand.
State Sen. Edward Reilly (R) has already pre-filed a 20-week abortion ban for the 2014 session. This type of restriction on later abortion procedures is an increasingly popular method of attacking reproductive rights; nine states currently have 20-week bans on the books. The Maryland legislature tends to reject anti-choice measures. Reilly’s new bill is the same legislation that failed to advance after he introduced it this past March.
If Reilly ends up being successful this time, however, the law will put one of the last late-term abortion providers out of business. Dr. Leroy Carhart, one of just four doctors who offers later abortions in the aftermath of Dr. George Tiller’s murder, currently practices in Maryland. Carhart relocated there after his former state, Nebraska, passed its own 20-week ban intended specifically to drive him out.
This fall, state Rep. Becky Nordgren (R) pre-filed the “Health Care Rights of Conscience Act,” which would allow medical professionals to refuse to perform any services that violate their conscience. That overly broad interpretation of religious protections typically results in limited access to reproductive health care, since it allows doctors to refuse to perform abortions or pharmacists to refuse to dispense contraception. These measures also give medical professionals the right to deny care from LGBT individuals.
Indeed, abortion access is being threatened not simply by state laws that ban the procedure, but also by a health care system that increasingly allows religious beliefs to trump women’s right to reproductive services. The proliferation of the Catholic Hospital Association has resulted in a world in which many women can’t access abortion care at their nearest hospital, even in cases of emergency, and many doctors aren’t being trained to provide these services in the first place.