CREDIT: AP Photo/Mike Groll
Less than two months into 2014, state legislatures are already busy crafting new attacks on reproductive health. The last three years have brought a record-breaking number of state-level restrictions on abortion, and lawmakers show no signs of letting up. In fact, abortion opponents in some states are simply getting more creative, using new language to ban the procedure and coming up with new ways to punish doctors. Here are the most problematic bills currently up for consideration:
1. Alabama is attempting to ban abortions after just six weeks.
Alabama lawmakers are preparing to hold a hearing on an abortion bill that would ban the procedure after a heartbeat can be detected — which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. So-called “heartbeat” bills are so radical that they divide the anti-choice community. Last year, North Dakota become the first state to pass one, and that measure is currently blocked from taking effect because it violates Roe v. Wade. Proponents of heartbeat bills typically don’t mince words about their desire to prevent women from having abortions. “It’s no secret that I’m against abortion, and that’s why I support the bill,” Rep. Becky Nordgren (R), one of the co-sponsors of Alabama’s bill, noted this week.
2. South Dakota may ban most abortions and threaten doctors with life in prison.
Proposed legislation in South Dakota could end up having a similar effect as a heartbeat bill, threatening to ban abortion after just seven weeks. The bill in question would “prohibit the dismemberment or decapitation of certain living unborn children,” vague language that could end up having far-reaching implications for abortion care in the state. “It looks like it’s trying to ban abortion using language that is completely unfamiliar and very inflammatory,” Elizabeth Nash, the states issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, told the Huffington Post. Doctors in violation of the proposed measure could face life in prison.
3. Oklahoma wants to follow in Texas’ footsteps and shut down abortion clinics.
This past summer, a harsh anti-abortion law in Texas captured national headlines after it forced dozens of clinics in the state to close. Now, Oklahoma is hoping to follow Texas’ lead. The two states are practically tripping over to see which one can make it the hardest to access abortion. Even though Oklahoma already has a law that imposes stringent restrictions on abortion providers, the proposed bill would tighten those restrictions even further to bring them in line with Texas’ law. It was approved by a Senate panel on Monday.
4. Indiana could put abortion doctors at risk for more violence and harassment.
The Indiana legislature has been advancing a measure that would force abortion doctors to make partnerships with other medical professionals who can serve as “back up doctors” in case anything goes wrong during the procedure. But the bill goes one step further — it would also allow the state to publicize the names of those “back up doctors.” Since abortion providers face a considerable amount of threats and harassment, they’re wary of any state legislation that could make them more vulnerable. At least one Republican in the state is refusing to support the legislation for this reason. “It does nothing to improve women’s health. All it will do is target doctors who provide health care for women,” state Sen. Vaneta Becker (R) explained after she voted against the bill earlier this month.
5. Iowa wants to allow women to sue doctors for “abortion distress.”
A proposed bill in Iowa could end up making it too risky for doctors to perform abortions, since it would empower women to sue providers over “emotional distress.” Women’s health advocates in the state warn that singling out abortion in this way would have a “chilling” effect on providers, who would essentially be under constant threat of a costly lawsuit from a former patient who decides they regret their abortion. This new bill fits into a larger strategy being pushed by Americans United for Life, an anti-choice group that shops around draft legislation to help spread identical abortion restrictions to multiple states. AUL calls these type of lawsuits the “missing link” in the current patchwork of abortion laws.
6. Missouri may force women to wait three days before having an abortion.
Missouri lawmakers are advancing a bill that would extend the state’s abortion waiting period to 72 hours. That would put Missouri on par with Utah and South Dakota, the only two states that currently have 72-hour waiting periods. During a hearing on the legislation, one of the measure’s co-sponsors compared abortion to knee surgery. “Very seldom do we make the decision to have the surgery right there, that day,” he said. Although mandatory waiting periods are a popular type of abortion restriction, research has proven that they don’t actually change women’s minds about whether to continue a pregnancy.
7. South Carolina and West Virginia want to ban later abortions with no consideration for rape, incest, or fetal abnormalities.
Lawmakers in South Carolina and West Virginia are considering bills that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. These type of bans are known as “fetal pain” bills because they’re based on the scientifically disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain after that point, and they’ve become an increasingly popular anti-choice strategy. Nine states have already passed 20-week bans, although some of them are already blocked from taking effect because they violate the protections guaranteed under Roe v. Wade. Later abortions are already very rare, and typically occur in desperate circumstances, like when women discover fatal fetal abnormalities that weren’t evident earlier in the pregnancy. However, the bills proposed in South Carolina and West Virginia don’t provide exceptions for these type of tragic situations.
8. Mississippi is so intent on banning abortion that it’s poised to pass an unnecessary bill.
Another 20-week abortion ban is currently making its way through the Mississippi legislature. But that bill is a huge waste of time and money, since it’s already impossible to get an abortion after 20 weeks in Mississippi. The state only has one abortion clinic left, and it only performs procedures up to 16 weeks. “People in Mississippi need to be demanding why they’re considering legislation that has little impact on the state and is wasting taxpayer dollars,” the owner of Mississippi’s last abortion clinic, Diane Derzis, said last week. “This is grandstanding at its worst.”
9. Kentucky wants to force abortion doctors to describe ultrasound images to their patients.
Earlier this month, the Kentucky Senate approved a measure that would require doctors to perform an ultrasound and describe the image of the fetus before proceeding with an abortion. This type of abortion restriction was recently struck down in North Carolina for violating the First Amendment, since it compels doctors to deliver an anti-choice message sanctioned by the state. Democrats in the state have argued that it’s demeaning to women to assume they don’t understand what a pregnancy entails — and indeed, the majority of women who have abortions are already parenting at least one child — but the bill’s sponsor argues that no cost is too great to reduce abortions.
10. Iowa is trying to eliminate abortion access for low-income and rural women.
Iowa earns another spot on this list for going after “telemedicine” abortion — essentially, the practice of using video technology to allow doctors to remotely prescribe a pill to women who may not have access to a nearby clinic. The Planned Parenthood affiliate in Iowa has been safely performing telemedicine abortions for over five years, and successfully providing health care to disadvantaged women who otherwise wouldn’t be able to get a legal abortion. But, after the state’s anti-choice governor quietly stacked the medical board with abortion opponents, the board moved to put an end to the program. That new rule is tied up in court, so state lawmakers are taking it upon themselves to ban telemedicine abortion through the legislature. Last week, the House approved the bill.