Over the past three years, lawmakers have imposed a record-breaking number of state-level restrictions on abortion, and the onslaught appears to be continuing. In order to keep passing multiple pieces of legislation related to this particular medical procedure, abortion opponents have been forced to get creative. Since banning abortion outright typically doesn’t work, lawmakers have resorted to enacting barriers to the procedure based on imaginary issues that they claim their legislation will fix.
Here’s the logic that anti-choice politicians are relying on to chip away at reproductive rights, even though none of these “problems” actually exist:
1. Sex-selective abortion bans to prevent discrimination against girls.
This week, South Dakota lawmakers advanced a bill to ban “sex-selective abortions,” or the practice of ending a pregnancy because of the fetus’ gender. The politicians pushing for the measure — which is already on the books in seven states — claim that it’s necessary because the state’s growing population of Asian immigrants may try to avoid giving birth to girls.
But there’s absolutely no evidence that Asian-Americans in this country are choosing to have abortions based on gender. In fact, the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum points out that this type of legislation is damaging to women of color because it relies on tired racial stereotypes. “No woman should ever be scrutinized based on her racial or ethnic background, but this is exactly what these bans encourage,” the group notes in an issue brief on the subject. Abortion doctors also point out they would have no idea how to enforce this type of legislation in practice.
Nonetheless, largely thanks to the anti-choice group Americans United for Life (AUL), which writes draft legislation for conservative lawmakers, over 60 bills in this area have been introduced at the state and federal level since 2009.
2. “Informed consent” laws to help women understand what a pregnancy is.
Thirty five states currently have laws in place that require women to receive counseling before being allowed to proceed with an abortion procedure. This type of measure is often called something along the lines of “The Woman’s Right To Know Act.” The lawmakers who champion these laws say they want to make sure patients have all the relevant information before agreeing to a medical procedure, and aren’t getting coerced into having an abortion they don’t want.
But doctors already know how to explain procedures to their patients, and don’t need the state putting words into their mouths. Medical professionals have repeatedly explained that these requirements impede their work. For instance, these laws often require doctors to give their patients scientifically disputed information about the risks of abortion, or force them to refer to the fetus as an “whole, separate, unique, living human being.”
Many of the laws also include a provision requiring a woman to look at an ultrasound, as if the realities of a pregnancy are totally foreign to them. But the majority of women who seek abortions have already given birth to at least one child. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a large body of research has found that these requirements don’t do anything to change women’s minds about whether to proceed with their abortion.
3. Harsh restrictions on abortion clinics to make the procedure safer.
Particularly after the illegal abortion provider Dr. Kermit Gosnell was convicted of murder for preying on women in his unsanitary clinic, abortion opponents have seized on the opportunity to pass laws to make the procedure safer. They have called for tighter clinic regulations, and have cracked down on the licensing procedures for abortion providers.
But abortion is actually one of the safest medical procedures in the country; it’s already much safer than giving birth. Less than 0.5 percent of the women who have abortions experience serious medical complications that require hospitalization. Even congressional Republicans’ own investigation into the nation’s abortion clinics found no evidence that they’re unsafe for women.
In reality, these laws are a targeted effort to shut down abortion clinics. And they’re working. Women’s access to clinics is shrinking. In an ironic twist, that means some of them are being forced to resort to illegal methods to terminate a pregnancy — the real threat to women’s safety.
4. “Fetal pain” bans to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
20-week abortion bans are an increasingly popular method of attacking reproductive rights. Nine states currently ban abortions after this arbitrary point, and three more — South Carolina, West Virginia, and Mississippi — are currently advancing proposals to do so. Abortion opponents refer to these measures as “fetal pain” laws because they’re based on the scientifically inaccurate notion that fetuses can feel pain after 20 weeks of pregnancy.
Even aside from the fact that there’s no scientific evidence to support the idea that fetuses can feel pain before the third trimester, the abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy represent a tiny fraction of the procedures nationwide — just about 1.5 percent. There’s no evidence that lots of American women are rushing out to have later abortion procedures on a whim and need to be policed from this aspect of reproductive care. In reality, cutting off access to later abortions simply ends up hurting women who are young and poor.
Mississippi in particular is intent on solving a problem that doesn’t exist. Lawmakers there are wasting time and money to advance a 20-week ban even though it’s already impossible to get an abortion after 20 weeks in the state. There’s only one abortion clinic left in Mississippi, and it only performs procedures up to 16 weeks.
5. Mandatory waiting periods to give a woman enough time to think about having an abortion.
“Informed consent” laws are often accompanied by mandatory waiting periods that require women to wait a designated period of time before returning to have an abortion procedure. Most states with this requirement have a 24-hour waiting period in place, but a handful of states force women to wait two or even three days before being allowed to proceed with an abortion. Proponents of this type of legislation claim that it can help safeguard women from rushing into a decision they might regret.
In reality, however, the country is not full of women who regret their decision to have an abortion. Although women may have a complicated mix of emotions following the decision to end a pregnancy, studies have found that they overwhelmingly say it was the right choice for them, and the most common emotion they experience is relief. Ninety percent of women who decide to end a pregnancy are already “very confident” about their choice before approaching a doctor, and waiting periods do nothing to change their minds. They do, however, cause emotional and financial hardships for women who are forced to make multiple trips to a clinic.