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Women Are Being Forced To Wait Longer And Longer To Get An Abortion

CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK
CREDIT: SHUTTERSTOCK

Among the new abortion restrictions being imposed by GOP-controlled legislatures this session, a clear trend is emerging: New laws that significantly lengthen the period that women must wait before they’re allowed to proceed with an abortion.

Abortion waiting periods typically require women to receive state-mandated counseling about abortion, then wait a set amount of time before they may have their procedure. Proponents typically say these policies are necessary to give pregnant women more time to think about such a serious decision.

Dozens of states have already enacted waiting periods. Traditionally, these laws have required a 24-hour wait between the counseling session and the abortion procedure — but now, lawmakers in several states are working to make the requirement even more stringent, lengthening their waiting periods to force patients to wait multiple days.

This week, for instance, North Carolina became the latest state to approve a 72-hour abortion waiting period. During the debate over the proposed three-day wait, some of the measure’s sponsors explicitly said they hope lengthening North Carolina’s waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours will prevent some women from choosing abortion. Gov. Pat McCrory (R) has already promised to sign it into law.

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Oklahoma also approved a 72-hour wait this session, tripling the amount of time that patients must wait before scheduling their abortion appointment. “This legislation will help women get the information they need before making a decision they can’t take back,” Gov. Mary Fallin (R) said in a statement last month, when she announced her decision to sign the measure.

Lawmakers in North Carolina and Oklahoma are following in the footsteps of abortion opponents in a handful of other states — South Dakota, Utah, and Missouri — that have imposed three-day abortion waiting periods in recent years. South Dakota currently has the distinction of having the most radical waiting period law in the country; weekends and holidays are excluded from the state’s official 72-hour period.

Other states are indicating a willingness to impose longer waiting periods, too. This session, lawmakers in Tennessee and Arkansas opted to lengthen abortion patients’ wait to two days, ensuring their states now have some of the toughest requirements in the country.

Elizabeth Nash, the senior states issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks state-level abortion laws, says there’s a simple reason why abortion opponents are focused on longer waiting periods. At this point, they don’t have many other options. At the end of last year, Nash told ThinkProgress that, in the aftermath of a record-breaking number of abortion restrictions enacted in red states, “the next step is to see how to make them more burdensome.”

Just this week, lawmakers in Texas — who have passed some of the harshest anti-abortion laws in the country — admitted that they’re nearly out of ideas for new restrictions on the procedure. “It’s becoming hard to do more things under what the Supreme Court has said is allowed,” House State Affairs Committee chairman Byron Cook (R) told the Houston Chronicle.

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Waiting periods, however, are still within lawmakers’ legal bounds. Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the 1992 court decision that clarified the extent to which states may restrict abortion, upheld mandatory counseling sessions and waiting periods. The justices ruled that those policies don’t constitute an “undue burden” that goes too far to limit women’s reproductive rights.

Extended waiting periods typically require patients to make two separate trips to an abortion clinic — which reproductive rights advocates say does place an untenable burden on low-income women who may not have the resources to take off work or arrange transportation. That position is grounded in research. One recent study that examined the effect of a 24-hour waiting period in Texas, for example, found that the policy was emotionally and financially difficult for patients. Nearly half of the respondents reported they spent an average of $146 on extra transportation and childcare to accommodate the two trips.

Research has also found that abortion patients don’t actually need any more time to think through their decision. Nearly 90 percent of women report they’re “highly confident” about having an abortion when they first seek out a clinic, and state-mandated counseling doesn’t change their minds. Studies have confirmed that even though ending a pregnancy inspires mixed emotions, women do not regret their abortion procedures and overwhelmingly say that it was the right choice for them.

There has recently been some backlash to forced waiting periods. Last month, the Satanic Temple — a satirical group that works to expose the hypocrisy in broad “religious liberty” laws — announced that it is seeking a religious exemption to Missouri’s 72-hour waiting period. The group says that a Satanist identified as “Mary” is struggling to get to Missouri’s only abortion clinic, and she should be allowed to bypass the three-day wait because it violates her deeply held religious beliefs about bodily autonomy.