CREDIT: AP Photo/Susan Walsh
Attacks on women’s reproductive rights have spread rapidly across the country, as state legislatures have enacted a record-breaking number of restrictions on abortion over the past several years. Last summer, all eyes were on Texas while activists protested against a harsh anti-choice measure that’s now forcing clinics to close. This year, there are some new battlegrounds to keep an eye on.
The following states have each approved new abortion restrictions within the past month that represent serious threats to women’s right to choose:
On Wednesday, Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin (R) approved a measure requiring abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges from a local hospital — the same exact measure that was recently enacted in Texas. Although admitting privilege requirements are cloaked in the language of women’s health and safety, doctors agree that they’re entirely medically unnecessary, a thinly veiled tactic for eliminating access to legal abortion.
It’s not hard to see the potentially catastrophic impact of the new law, thanks to the precedent that’s been set by the Lone Star State. Since Texas’ admitting privileges law took effect, multiple clinics have been forced out of business, and some doctors have lost their licenses because they can’t comply with the medically unnecessary policy. That’s left a huge swath of the state without access to a single reproductive health facility.
“If this law is allowed to stand, it will further expand the massive areas of the United States where women’s constitutional right to safely and legally end a pregnancy is under siege by politicians attempting to make abortion nearly inaccessible by driving more and more good health care providers out of practice,” Nancy Northrup, the president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, warned in a statement.
Just like nearby Oklahoma, lawmakers in Louisiana recently approved an admitting privileges bill that’s directly modeled on the one in Texas. It’s still awaiting Gov. Bobby Jindal’s signature, but the Republican leader has already confirmed he plans to sign it. The measure is expected to close at least three of the state’s five abortion clinics.
And that’s not all. The Louisiana legislature has been busy attacking reproductive rights from all angles during this current session, and lawmakers have advanced several other anti-choice measures. In addition to the clinic restrictions, the state also approved a bill this week that will bar abortion providers from distributing any health information in public schools. The measure is intended to directly target Planned Parenthood, even though the women’s health organization is the largest sex ed provider in the country.
Reproductive rights activists in the state are pressuring Jindal to veto the two pieces of legislation. “Over and over we’ve witnessed numerous attacks on women, men, adolescents and families’ health. By now, it is clear that legislators are playing politics instead of increasing much needed access to health care and health education,” a petition from Planned Parenthood of the Gulf Coast reads.
Halfway through May, lawmakers in Missouri approved a measure that will triple the state’s current waiting period for an abortion, requiring women to wait a full three days before being allowed to have the procedure. Only two other states, Utah and South Dakota, currently have waiting periods that long.
Similarly to Louisiana, the abortion opponents in Missouri haven’t been content with just one bill attacking abortion rights. This session, the legislature has considered over 30 separate abortion restrictions. Since the state already has just one abortion clinic left, lawmakers are essentially focusing all of their attention on regulating a single building.
Women’s health activists have also been frustrated with lawmakers’ attitudes this session, accusing male politicians of making condescending assumptions about women’s inability to make health care decisions for themselves. One GOP representative compared choosing an abortion to buying a car, suggesting that women simply need more time to think to prevent them from making a hasty decision. His female colleagues called the comparison “extremely offensive” and “demeaning to women,” and activists protested by dressing up as cars in a legislative hearing.
It’s important to put newly approved abortion restrictions in the context of the anti-choice laws that are already on the books in surrounding states. For instance, if Louisiana and Oklahoma both enact admitting privileges requirements, they’ll join several other Southern states — Mississippi, Alabama and Texas — that have already approved them. Although Mississippi and Alabama are in the midst of legal challenges that have temporarily blocked their laws from taking effect, the country isn’t too far off from a future in which harsh restrictions on abortion providers are in place throughout the South. Slowly but surely, Southern women’s access to abortion clinics is disappearing.
“You’re looking at huge swaths of the country where women’s options are becoming severely limited,” Amanda Allen, the state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, recently pointed out.