With "JESUS + Mary" hand-written across the his talking points regarding Kansas' new anti-abortion bill, along with "all human life is sacred" scrawled at the bottom, an expansive anti-abortion bill became Kansas law on Friday. Just before signing, Governor Sam Brownback declared, "With this, we continue to build this culture of life in our state." The restrictive bill blocks tax breaks for abortion providers, states that life begins at fertilization, and requires doctors to falsely warn patients that abortion can cause breast cancer.
The bill is the latest in a string of anti-choice laws whose numbers have exponentially increased in recent years. In 2011, 92 abortion restriction provisions became law, up from 34 in 2005. Emboldened by the success of other states, more and more conservative lawmakers are passing legislation that blatantly flies in the face of Roe v. Wade. 12 states have implemented unconstitutional bans on abortions before the fetus is viable outside the womb. Unable to ban abortion outright, state legislators are working to undermine Roe v. Wade by eroding its individual protections one by one.
The trend arguably began in 2010, when Nebraska passed what were then the tightest restrictions on abortions yet — a ban after 20 weeks. (Check out the Washington Post's interactive map to compare state abortion laws.) The Guttermacher Institute's state policy manager Elizabeth Nash told the Post, "You kind of saw a one up-manship among state legislators. We started to see the 20-week bans, and a lot of them didn't get challenged. So now the momentum seems to be, let's try and push it earlier and earlier."
North Dakota became the first state to pass new abortion restrictions in 2013 and now holds the crown for most prohibitive laws: The state's sole abortion clinic cannot perform procedures after six weeks. Governor Jack Dalrymple openly stated in a statement, "This bill is … a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade."
And outright bans aren't the only laws becoming effective. Other common restrictions include:
- Medically unnecessary ultrasounds prior to an abortion.
- Misinformation about abortions risks and side effects.
- Unconstitutional requirements that a second physician sign off on the medical necessity of an abortion.
- Bans on medicated abortions — particularly threatening to women seeking early abortions.
- Pre-emptive bans on abortion in the event Roe gets overturned.
- Requiring multiple trips to an abortion facility, a mandate especially hard on women who can't afford the time off work.
Growing restrictions mirror the ever more polarized American political landscape. In 2000, 19 states were considered "middle ground" in terms of abortion legislation; that number is now nine. States that remain supportive are largely on the coasts, while many Southern and Midwestern states went from middle ground to "hostile."
These laws have limited impact on the ability of economically stable women to obtain abortions, but poor women, and disproportionately women of color, are particularly hard-hit. With access shrinking, and their funds to travel out-of-state for abortions limited, the women most vulnerable to the economic impact of an unplanned pregnancy are also those least able to get the care they need. At the same time, many of these states are cutting funding for contraception and family planning — compounding the problem and closing off women's options at every turn.
Only a smattering of judges have ruled to maintain any semblance of abortion rights in some conservative states. A North Dakota District Court judge blocked a proposed ban on medicated abortions, and in Mississippi, a federal judge partially blocked a law that would have forced the closing of its only abortion clinic. It's a feeble challenge to the sweep of unconstitutional laws, but for people working to protect women's bodily autonomy, perhaps it's a start.