The seemingly endless battle over women’s rights to reproductive health care has taken a substantial legal step backwards. So far this year, just 19 states have enacted a total of 162 new laws relating to reproductive health. Unsurprisingly, 49 percent of these work to restrict access to abortion services, smashing the already unsettling record of 34 legalized restrictions passed in 2005.
The laws attack access to abortion care from a variety of angles. As the reproductive health and justice website RH Reality Check details, conservative lawmakers have combined established and inventive strategies in an effort to reduce both access to reproductive health care and the influence of family planning programs and institutions.
Among the restrictions passed in the first six months of this year are tried-and-tested methods of limitation, like extensions of counseling and waiting periods, and reactions to the so-called "taxpayer-provided abortion" furor that surrounded last year’s health care reform debate. Twenty four states considered the issue of insurance coverage for abortion, and eight passed laws that restrict private health insurance plans from helping to cover the cost of the procedure. This, coupled with the longstanding Hyde Amendment, which prohibits coverage of abortion procedures for those who receive health care through federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid, leaves low-income women with exceedingly few places to turn for access to reproductive health services.
Additionally, family planning organizations like Planned Parenthood continue to find themselves on the wrong side of the Right’s radar. While nine of the 18 states with budgets that include a specific line item for family planning kept their funding of these programs intact, the other nine saw dramatic cuts. Budgetary crises across the nation provided welcome opportunities for these states to greatly reduce or, in Montana’s case, eliminate the influence of family planning.
The new laws don’t just retread over worn techniques of deprivation. Some states are taking dramatic new steps to limit women’s access to reproductive health care. While it is still awaiting confirmation by the state’s Senate, Ohio’s House of Representatives passed a measure that will ban abortion procedures as soon as a fetal heartbeat can be detected. This usually occurs between six and 10 weeks’ gestation, far from the approximate seven months necessary for fetal viability, the point at which the fetus can survive outside of the uterus. Five other states has passed laws that ban abortions after 20 weeks gestation if the woman’s life is not endangered, based on the claim that this is the point when the fetus feels pain.
Along with recent pressure from independent organizations, this unfortunate new record leaves women, especially those of color, with more struggles facing and less access to the reproductive services they should be entitled to.