Abortion rights face a full-on assault at the state level

A new report shows more than two dozen states have introduced legislation targeting abortion rights.

Activists dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” chant in the Texas Capitol Rotunda as they protest SB8, a bill that would require health care facilities, including hospitals and abortion clinics, to bury or cremate any fetal remains whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth, and they would be banned from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Austin. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay
Activists dressed as characters from “The Handmaid’s Tale” chant in the Texas Capitol Rotunda as they protest SB8, a bill that would require health care facilities, including hospitals and abortion clinics, to bury or cremate any fetal remains whether from abortion, miscarriage or stillbirth, and they would be banned from donating aborted fetal tissue to medical researchers, Tuesday, May 23, 2017, in Austin. CREDIT: AP Photo/Eric Gay

With national focus on GOP efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, attention is being diverted away from another critical health crisis: state-wide efforts to legislate and restrict reproductive rights.

Since 2010, when elections swept a wave of anti-choice politicians into office across the country, virtually all reproductive health legislation at the state level has focused on restricting abortion access. And according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy institution focused on tracking reproductive health policies, this year has been no exception.

In the first six months of this year, 28 states introduced legislation to ban abortion in some form — while six worked to ban the procedure entirely.

Most hard-hit are Southern and Midwestern states, where conservative politicians have a long history of undermining reproductive rights. For example, despite a 2014 Supreme Court ruling striking down HB2, a bill that sharply curtailed abortion rights, abortion clinics in Texas have struggled to rebuild and reopen amid legislative efforts to pile on more restrictions.

In June, Gov. Greg Abbott (R) signed SB8 (also referred to as HB8), a controversial anti-abortion bill set to go into effect on September 1. Among the most aggressive anti-choice legislation nationally, the bill bans both second-trimester abortions and the use of fetal tissue in research (the tissue itself is required to be buried or cremated), prohibits a safe and common abortion method called Dilation & Evacuation (D&E), and threatens those who help people obtain abortion care with jail time.

This bill was only one of 50 different measures restricting reproductive health that the Texas legislature considered during its most recent session. And there’s more where that came from: Abbott has called for a special session, one stacked with even more abortion restrictions — sparking outrage from reproductive justice advocates.

“It’s been one year since the historic Whole Woman’s Health Supreme Court decision striking down HB 2, but unfortunately Texas politicians haven’t learned their lesson,” said Nan Little Kirkpatrick, the executive director of Texas Equal Access Fund, in a statement addressing the legislative onslaught. “They’ve continued to attack our communities and target abortion care, by passing HB 8 during the regular session and now again in the special session with a ban on abortion coverage.”

Texas is far from the only state suffering from a wave of anti-choice legislation in the first half of 2017. Colorado, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, and Oklahoma have also seen efforts to ban all abortions this year. Arkansas has also moved to prohibit D&E (the American Civil Liberties Union has sued the state in response.)

While straightforward efforts to attack abortion directly have moved forward in multiple states, Guttmacher also noted that a range of creative tactics have been employed to advance anti-choice legislation.

Cracking down on minors is one approach; in June, Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards (D) signed SB 111, which restricts minors’ access to abortion care, something both Indiana and West Virginia have also moved to do. Requiring abortion counseling, imposing waiting periods, and offering patients the option to hear fetal heartbeats are also among the methods many states have weaponized to restrict access.

Other approaches to restricting abortion are also proving appealing to lawmakers. In Arkansas, Illinois, Massachusetts, New York, Missouri, Texas, Oregon, and Rhode Island, efforts to ban sex-selective abortions have been introduced. In Illinois, Missouri, and Texas, politicians have also introduced legislation banning race-selective abortions. Both tactics are part of a wider legislative movement to abolish abortion using any justification necessary. That includes abortion due to fetal genetic anomalies — a type of ban that Texas, Illinois, Missouri, and Ohio have introduced, along with Oklahoma, where efforts have passed the House of Representatives.

Broader efforts attacking publicly funded family planning are also on the rise, part of the ongoing fallout from a series of heavily edited videos released in 2015 aiming to discredit Planned Parenthood. Arizona, Kentucky and South Carolina moved this year to target family planning providers, joining a growing movement of states honing in on the issue. Some states have chosen to forego assistance in the name of cracking down — Iowa and Missouri have both enacted policies barring abortion providers from state Medicaid family planning expansions, rendering themselves ineligible for federal Medicaid funding in the process.

Despite the onslaught of restrictive legislation, Guttmacher’s report also highlights several states where reproductive rights are being expanded, rather than curtailed. Maryland and Nevada have moved to protect funding for family planning, with the former requiring the state to make up for lost federal funds and the latter allocating $500,000 to the issue in state funds for each of the next two years. Three states (Delaware, New York, and Idaho) also notably moved to expand abortion access specifically.