As legislative sessions close, anti-abortion rights laws go into effect starting with South Dakota

Thursday, June 30, 2011 at 12:46 pm

By the end of this week, 40 state legislatures will have adjourned, concluding a legislative season full of proposed bills aimed to restrict women’s access to abortion and, in some cases, family-planning services. On Wednesday, lobby group NARAL Pro-Choice America, a national advocate for reproductive rights, organized a webinar and slide show (PDF) to bring attention to the number of anti-abortion rights laws that have been introduced and passed so far this year.

NARAL President Nancy Keenan said the organization is tracking nearly three times as many “anti-choice” state bills in 2011 (470) compared to 2010 (175). So far, Keenan said, the states have enacted 49 anti-abortion rights measures compared with 34 in 2010. She called 2011 “one of the five worst years for choice” since the organization started tracking state-level legislation in 1995.

The title of the webinar (PDF), “Comparing Reproductive Rights to Spare Tires and Heroin: A Look at the War on Women in the States,” was an homage to recent comparisons state lawmakers have made on the floor of their chambers. For example, when the Indiana House debated a since-passed bill that would ban abortion after 20 weeks — except in the case of rape or incest — state Rep. Eric Turner (R-Cicero) argued: “Someone who is desirous of an abortion could simply say that they’ve been raped or there’s incest.”

NARAL’s team organized the laws into five major trends:

  • Abortion-coverage bans (eight states enacted bans in 2011; one ban was vetoed)
  • Abortion bans after 20 weeks (32 bills were introduced in 15 states; legislation was enacted in five states and vetoed in one state)
  • Mandatory-ultrasound legislation (28 ultrasound‐related bills were introduced in 14 states compared with nine bills in 2010; legislation was enacted in three states and vetoed in one state)
  • “Personhood” measures (one personhood measure is on the 2011 ballot in Mississippi; one has been proposed for the 2012 ballot in Florida; 32 personhood-related bills were introduced in 18 states)
  • Race-and-sex-based abortion legislation (10 bills were introduced in six states, and one was enacted in Arizona; the bills were accompanied by anti-abortion rights billboard campaigns targeting the African-American community and recently the Latina community)

But the two states that win the prize for the most extreme anti-abortion rights legislation according to NARAL are Ohio and South Dakota. This week, the Ohio House of Representatives approved a law, bringing the state closer to becoming the first to outlaw abortion after a heartbeat is detectable, which could be as early as six weeks.

And on Friday, South Dakota’s new law establishing the longest mandatory wait time in the country is set to go into effect. Not only does the law require women to wait at least 72 hours before they can obtain an abortion; before they can have one, they must participate in one free counseling session at a so-called “crisis pregnancy center” and meet with the abortion-providing physician, who will have to assert in writing whether or not the woman is being coerced into having an abortion.

The law has been challenged on the grounds of unconstitutionality; on Monday, a court in Sioux Falls will rule whether or not to suspend the law while its being challenged, according to the Associated Press.

AP reports that thus far, only three pregnancy centers have registered to participate in the mandatory counseling sessions: Care Net Pregnancy Resource Center in Rapid City, Bella Pregnancy Resource Center in Spearfish and Alpha Center in Sioux Falls.

“[This law] makes the state a full partner with [crisis pregnancy centers], whose soul purpose is to coerce women,” said Cristi Schwarcz , a senior policy representative at NARAL.

Schwarcz said it is somewhat paradoxical for a CPC, which she referred to as “anti-abortion storefronts,” to be a gateway for a woman to obtain an abortion. “Imagine a law that blocks a man from obtaining condoms until [he receives] religious counseling,” she said.

Fourteen states’ sessions remain open: Four close this week, two close later this summer and eight are year-round.

Watch NARAL’s video reflection of the reproductive-health-related legislation this year, which it has dubbed “The War on Women in the States”:



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