The Assault on Reproductive Rights Part 2: Restrictions Go Radical
Even though a majority of the public supports abortion rights, voters in the 2010 midterm elections reanimated the anti-abortion movement by electing droves of conservative and tea party candidates to state legislatures. The result has been a surge of radical and unconstitutional laws that choke off reproductive rights.
The powerful anti-abortion voting blocs got to work quickly, approving 135 abortion restrictions across a majority of states in 2011 and 2012. Several of those laws, such as those banning abortion at 20 weeks postfertilization, violate the protections of Roe v. Wade. Judges have blocked some of these unconstitutional measures by court order, while others remain in effect.
The laws come more than 40 years after the U.S. Supreme Court secured a woman’s right to choose to end a pregnancy. According to a Pew Research Center poll, 63 percent of Americans say the high court’s decision should remain in place, up from 60 percent in 1992. Over that same span, the share of those who want to see it overturned shrank from 34 percent to 29 percent.
But the greatest threat to abortion access has not come from direct attacks on the landmark Supreme Court case. Several of the new laws are designed to skirt the boundaries of constitutional territory, making abortion services more difficult to obtain by making them more expensive, inconvenient, frightening and demeaning for women.
Made to Wait
Anti-abortion lawmakers have recently pursued a strategy of piecemeal abortion regulations like mandatory counseling, needless waiting periods and unnecessary ultrasounds. They may pass constitutional muster when viewed individually, but they can combine to present women with potentially insurmountable challenges.
In 26 states, women are required to receive counseling followed by a waiting period before they’re allowed to undergo an abortion. Several of those states require women to receive their counseling in person with their physician at least 24 hours in advance, necessitating two separate trips to the clinic.
In large states that have only one abortion clinic, like South Dakota and Mississippi, this medically unnecessary obstacle can require hours of road travel and overnight hotel stays. Under these circumstances, women with limited finances or opportunities for travel may find it practically impossible to access abortion services, even though their constitutional rights to those services remain intact.
Lawmakers in South Dakota have taken the issue of mandatory counseling and waiting periods farther than in any other state, though some of the most extreme provisions are currently blocked pending judicial review. The state required a 72-hour waiting period and counseling administered by an anti-abortion “pregnancy crisis center.”
Furthermore, a federal appeals court recently reinstated a 2005 provision requiring doctors to tell women that having an abortion increases their risk of suicide. Research from Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health refutes this claim.
South Dakota is tied with Utah for the longest mandatory waiting period in the nation. South Dakota Gov. Dennis Daugaard approved a modification to the law this year that excludes weekends and holidays from the required waiting period, potentially stretching a woman’s wait to six calendar days.
Mississippi has also established roadblocks for women, including mandatory counseling, a 24-hour waiting period and parental consent requirements. But legislators in that state have focused their most extreme anti-abortion efforts on regulating the last remaining abortion clinic out of existence. They’ve required abortion providers to have patient admission privileges at a local hospital. The catch is that local hospitals aren’t required to grant those privileges.
To date, none of the seven area hospitals have responded to the applications of Mississippi’s last remaining abortion providers. Some of those hospitals have religious affiliations that would philosophically preclude them from approving the applications, but even the secular hospitals must be hard-pressed to volunteer as targets for future anti-abortion protests.
As a result of the clinic’s dilemma, U.S. District Judge Daniel P. Jordan III has temporarily blocked the hospital admission requirement, noting in his court order that the law creates “a patchwork system where constitutional rights are available in some states but not others.”
Another Front in the Fight
Despite the widespread anti-abortion legislation enacted recently, no state has been rendered entirely abortion-free. But in those states that are dominated by anti-abortion legislators, clinics are becoming increasingly reliant on last-minute injunctions to stay in operation.
Roe v. Wade, the baseline for abortion rights for the last 40 years, remains the last salvation for these clinics. But even as some lawmakers focus on chipping away abortion access a little at a time, others have their sights set squarely on the one court case that could change everything.