Heading into a new year, it’s clear that 2014 wasn’t a great period for reproductive rights. Advocates of reproductive freedom were disappointed by Supreme Court rulings in the Hobby Lobby and abortion clinic buffer zone cases, and states that already heavily restrict abortion access worked to tighten their laws even further.
That falls in line with a legislative trend that’s been playing out over the past several years. Ever since Republicans picked up hundreds of legislative seats in the 2010 midterm elections, lawmakers have imposed a record-breaking number of new abortion restrictions on the state level. As organizations on both sides of the abortion debate review the data from recent years, the consequences of that state-by-state strategy are becoming increasingly evident.
For instance, consider the huge surge in policies intended to regulate Americans’ reproductive lives. According to a new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute — a reproductive rights organization that tracks legislative efforts in this area — states have enacted a staggering 231 abortion restrictions over the past four years:
CREDIT: Guttmacher Institute
Many of those new laws focus specifically on pressuring abortion clinics to close, something that advocates refer to as the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, or TRAP. States like Texas and Virginia have recently enacted TRAP policies that have driven multiple health facilities out of business. On top of that, efforts to defund Planned Parenthood in multiple states has made it too financially difficult for clinics to keep operating.
This particular tactic is working all too well. According to the anti-abortion groups that closely watch for clinic closures, the number of medical facilities that perform abortions has recently dropped to a record low. Sixty clinics were shuttered in 2014 alone, according to the right-wing group Operation Rescue — leaving the total number of clinics across the country at 551, the lowest number in more than two decades:
CREDIT: Operation Rescue
Obviously, the rise of anti-abortion laws and the decline of abortion clinics has a direct impact on millions of Americans across the country. The number of states that the Guttmacher Institute defines as “hostile” or “extemely hostile” to reproductive rights — states that have between four and ten abortion restrictions on the books — swelled to 27 this year. That figure has more than doubled since 2000.
Those states are home to more than half of U.S. women of reproductive age, according to Guttmacher’s calculations. In practical terms, that means that over 50 percent of the women who may want to avoid pregnancy now live in a place where they could struggle to realize their abortion rights:
CREDIT: Guttmacher Institute
Unfortunately for proponents of reproductive freedom, 2015 will likely bring more of the same. The most recent midterm elections ushered in a wave of Republican lawmakers, allowing the GOP to maintain control of nearly 70 chambers in states across the country. The states that have already imposed multiple abortion restrictions are expected to find ways to make those laws even worse this year, and a GOP-controlled Congress appears poised to attempt to pass a national abortion ban.
“As we look ahead to what will surely be another tough year for women’s health, our focus is on making sure women have access to the care they need and are able to make their own health care decisions,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action, said in a statement released after Guttmacher’s most recent report.