This month’s midterm elections ushered in a wave of Republican lawmakers, allowing the GOP to tighten its grip on legislatures in the South and maintain control of nearly 70 chambers in states across the country. That’s given abortion opponents an new opportunity to continue restricting access to abortion on the state level — and they’re not wasting any time getting started.
Most legislatures won’t be back in session until January, but GOP lawmakers in several states have already been busy preparing anti-abortion bills for 2015.
In Texas, for example, the first day available to file new legislation was last Tuesday, and lawmakers rushed to file hundreds of bills. Even though Texas has already enacted some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the nation — and has been thrust into the national spotlight for forcing dozens of clinics to close — several additional anti-abortion bills have already been proposed. Lawmakers are seeking to ban abortions on the basis of gender and prohibit abortion providers from providing sex ed in public schools.
And in Tennessee, where voters just narrowly approved a ballot initiative giving the legislature more power to restrict abortion, lawmakers have every intention of using that newfound authority to undermine reproductive rights. On Thursday, State Rep. Rick Womick (R) became the first legislator to file an anti-abortion bill to take advantage of the ballot measure’s passage. Womick’s bill would impose a mandatory ultrasound and a one- to three-day waiting period for women seeking abortions.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Missouri are preparing to re-introduce legislation that requires regular inspections of abortion clinics, a measure that didn’t pass during the 2014 session. Missouri, which recently became the third state to enact a 72-hour abortion waiting period, considered more than 30 different proposed abortion restrictions this year to regulate the state’s lone clinic — and some of the other bills that didn’t make it through will probably pop up again in 2015, too.
And that’s likely just the tip of the iceberg. Most states allow legislation to be pre-filed, so more of these types of bills may arrive throughout the next few weeks, particularly in the 30 legislatures that are now completely controlled by Republicans.
“The past four years have not been kind to abortion rights supporters, and in 2015 state legislatures will be more conservative than in 2014, so additional state level restrictions are expected,” Elizabeth Nash, the states issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told ThinkProgress via email.
In addition to Texas, Tennessee, and Missouri, Nash said there could be similar action to restrict abortion in Oklahoma, North Dakota, South Dakota, Arizona, Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, West Virginia, and potentially Arizona and Wisconsin.
State legislative seats arguably have the most influence over access to abortion in the United States, since lawmakers have pursued a successful strategy of chipping away at Roe v. Wade’s protections on a state level. For instance, after Republicans picked up hundreds of legislative seats in the 2010 midterm elections, more abortion restrictions were enacted in the following three years than during the entire previous decade. This trend will continue; abortion opponents have been referring to the recent election results as a “pro-life tsunami.”
Reproductive rights proponents are pulling together some predictions about what may be in store next year. State-level abortion laws often come in waves, depending on what’s been able to survive the federal courts.
“We may see states extend the waiting period between counseling and the abortion from 24 hours to 48 or 72 hours. It is also expected that so-called Religious Freedom Restoration Acts or other types of refusal clauses may be on the legislative agenda, as a response to the Hobby Lobby decision,” Nash said.
Plus, the Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers, the umbrella term for the policies that have swept the country over the past several years — forcing dozens of clinics to close in states where abortion access is hanging on by a thread — shows no signs of abating. Advocates are also keeping an eye on the states where 20-week abortion bans failed last year, like West Virginia and New Mexico, since the lawmakers there are likely to keep trying.