Report: States Pass Staggering Array of Anti-Choice Laws, Policies and Ballot Measures

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RH Reality Check

Report: States Pass Staggering Array of Anti-Choice Laws, Policies and Ballot Measures

by
Amie Newman, Managing Editor, RH Reality Check

Live in Tennessee, Mississippi, Arizona, Missouri or Louisiana? The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) wants you to know that, with the implementation of health care reform in 2014, you will not have access to abortion coverage in your state's health exchanges. These states have enacted insurance bans on abortion coverage. Five other states considered the bans and the CRR expects more to do so in 2011. But this is only the tip of the iceberg. The 2010 state legislative session has seen legislation forcing women to undergo "biased counseling" (and compelling health care providers to provide said counseling) which may contain medically inaccurate and misleading information, as well as mandatory ultrasound requirements. Some states have pushed anti-provider bills which seek to bar physicians who provide abortion care from a state's malpractice compensation fund, and bills which force women to return at least twice to a provider before being deemed acceptable to have a legal abortion. States have sought to define zygotes and fertilized eggs as people; and punish women by barring any insurance coverage for abortion - even if the woman became pregnant as a result of rape.

The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) recently released its summary on the "major trends in anti-abortion legislation that emerged this year and of the onerous abortion restrictions enacted," according to a statement from the organization.  "A First Look Back at the 2010 State Legislative Session," (PDF) details alarming trends among the states to severely restrict access to legal abortion care.

Of particular consequence this past year has been the Nelson Amendment to the health care reform bill, which is responsible for the ban on abortion coverage in the health exchanges. As mentioned above, in response to the provision, five states have already passed similar state bans with more expected. CRR notes that anti-choice proponents' argument over abortion access in federal health care reform efforts focused on outright false information about the importance of abortion access, as health care, for women in this country.

"...access to abortion is essential to women’s ability to protect their health and well-being throughout their reproductive years. It is also an extraordinarily common procedure: By the age of forty-five, approximately one in three women in this country will have had an abortion.  Health organizations including the World Health Organization, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Public Health Association, and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals recognize abortion as a critical part of comprehensive reproductive health care."

As CRR notes, the amendment practically invites anti-choice legislators to push for abortion bans in their state exchanges, so it's no surprise they've taken the federal government up on the invitation.

Anti-choice restrictions in the 2011 state legislative session can not solely be attributed to the Nelson Amendment, of course. Not by a long shot. Anti-choice legislators have acted swiftly and unrelentingly to block their female residents from accessing legal abortion in a variety of ways, with harmful repercussions for both women and physicians.

Of the mandatory counseling and ultrasound requirements most popular this legislative session, CRR writes,

Ultrasound requirements are particularly demeaning to women, implying both that they do not understand their pregnancies and that they cannot make reasoned decisions without receiving information the state deems important. Women seeking abortions have carefully considered their options and life circumstances, and these requirements serve only as an attempt to shame them and make them feel guilty about their decisions.

For women who have wanted pregnancies or who have been victims of rape, incest, or abuse, these requirements can also result in unnecessary emotional suffering. These bills also interfere with the doctor/patient relationship, forcing physicians to give each woman “one size fits all” treatment, instead of allowing the physician to treat each patient individually according to his or her professional judgment.

There are certain states whose anti-choice bills are worthy of a special mention, in the CRR report, for both sheer number of bills - and their particularly onerous nature. Oklahoma has seen no less than eight attempts to block women's access to abortion care in that state during the state's 2010 legislative session. From a bill that would require physicians to "grill women" by asking them no less than 37 questions, forcing women seeking an abortion "to report their 'marital status, age, race, education, number of live births, number of miscarriages, number of induced abortions, type of abortion and reason for the abortion,'” to a bill prohibiting any claims for damages "on the basis of wrongful life or wrongful birth," Oklahoma has been relentless in their quest to criminalize women's health care. Though Oklahoma's ultrasound bill has a restraining order against it, in place, until 2011, women face a mountain of challenges when attempting to access abortion in that state still.

States from Arizona to Virginia, however, have also enacted abortion restrictions some with far-reaching consequences. In Utah, for example, a law was enacted which "imposes severe criminal penalties on pregnant women who cause the termination of their own pregnancies." Yes, you read that right. It is now potentially illegal, in that state, for women to miscarry. Notes the CRR report,

"This law targets pregnant woman in significant and unintended ways,
subjecting women who experience miscarriages to potential criminal prosecution and inflicting criminal penalties on women who are already suffering such anguishing life circumstances that they would undertake desperate and dangerous measures to end their pregnancies."

Perhaps the most puzzling and potentially harmful trend in the states in 2010 has been the push to confer personhood status upon fertilized eggs by amending state constitutions, using the ballot measure process. These initiatives - to define personhood from the moment of conception - have arisen from the Personhood movement which pushes what CRR calls an "extreme agenda" - an agenda that "would likely fail if proposed in the legislature."

The problem with these proposals - aside from the obvious intent to criminalize abortion - is that they would also ban many forms of contraception and even reproductive technology like in-vitro fertilization. More than that, one can only imagine (and many, including CRR, have) what other laws which use the term "person" would be affected by such a change to a state's constitution, creating utterly absurd but still disastrous consequences for women and their families.

This may be why these measures have not been very successful. Even fellow anti-choice organizations are steering clear of push for personhood. According to CRR:

At the start of 2010, “personhood” ballot initiative campaigns had begun to take shape in at least nine states. However, by August, only two proposals had received enough signatures to be placed on the ballot, in Colorado for the November 2010 election, and in Mississippi for November 2011.

Notably, in 2008, Colorado was the first state to consider a personhood initiative and voters overwhelmingly rejected it, 73 percent to 27 percent.

One ballot measure, in particular however, has been successful as of late. Last week, Alaska passed a parental notification ballot measure mandating that before a young woman can have an abortion, her physician must notify at least one parent. If the young woman lives in an abusive home? CRR says that the only way to avoid the notification process is for her to seek a court order or a signed statement from a law enforcement officer. The proposal also seeks to penalize physicians, notes RH Reality Check's Pamela Merritt, "...who perform abortions on minors without notification of the minor's parents." Sadly, notes Merritt, although most teens - including Alaskan teens -  already communicate with their parents, this government mandate now forces parental involvement even when there is good reason not to. Ultimately, it is the young women who fear repercussions from an abusive home environment, and take matters into their own hands, who will suffer.

It may seem as if the 2010 state legislative session floated away on a grey cloud when it comes to abortion laws, however the Center for Reproductive Rights and many pro-choice legislators and fellow advocates have been integral in successfully fighting or temporarily stopping some of the more restrictive ones.

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