State Attacks on Women's Health
The vast majority of Americans oppose efforts to overturn Roe v. Wade — yet in state after state, Planned Parenthood is on the front lines fighting dangerous bills, regulations, and executive actions that would prevent a woman from making her own personal, private decision about her health and medical care.
The last two years set records for the extent of bad legislation that was introduced and passed to restrict women’s health — everything from mandatory ultrasound laws to restrictions on access to birth control. More than 1,000 provisions related to women’s health were introduced in states over the last two years, and 257 of them became laws, the vast majority of which interfere with women’s health.
And 2013 could be worse.
When state legislatures reconvened in January — just two months after an historic election in which women’s health was a defining issue — bills to restrict women’s access to health care were introduced almost immediately in 36 states.
These are the top threats we are fighting on the state level in 2013 and some places where they are moving.
- 1. Unconstitutional Abortion Bans
- 2. Attacks on Planned Parenthood Patients
- 3. TRAP Abortion Bans
- 4. Non-surgical Abortion Restrictions
- 5. Biased Counseling
- 6. “Personhood” Amendments
1) Unconstitutional Abortion Bans
In the landmark case Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court recognized that the U.S. Constitution protects a woman's right to make her own medical decisions, including her decision to have an abortion. Therefore, a state may not ban abortion prior to viability. In the 40 years following that landmark ruling, in decisions including Casey v. Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court has never wavered from this principle. In fact, this year a federal judge affirmed this in a decision to block Idaho from enforcing a ban on abortion at 20 weeks.
Yet the nation’s most extreme ban on abortion is scheduled to take effect this summer, after Tea Party politicians in Arkansas overrode Governor Mike Beebe’s veto of a bill banning abortion at 12 weeks. North Dakota has gone even further by banning abortion at 6 weeks.
Abortion bans are not only bad policy because they would prevent a woman from making her own personal, private decision about her health and medical care, but because they clearly violate women's constitutional rights.
2) Attacks on Planned Parenthood Patients
In states around the country, anti-women’s health legislators are trying to eliminate funding for family planning or block Planned Parenthood’s participation in public health programs. While state attacks on Planned Parenthood patients vary, the outcome would be the same: women’s ability to receive basic health care — including cancer screenings, well-woman exams, and birth control — from their trusted health care provider would be severely undermined.
For example, the very day after the most extreme abortion ban in the country passed, Arkansas state senators introduced the most extreme measure in the country designed to block access to preventive care at Planned Parenthood’s health centers. This extreme legislation is so broad that it would prohibit the state from contracting with entities like the power company, the water company, health insurers, or medical suppliers because they also contract with Planned Parenthood and/or any other health care provider that informs women about all of their pregnancy options, including access to safe and legal abortion.
3) Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers (TRAP) Abortion Bans
Reproductive health care services are among the safest and mostly commonly sought forms of care in the U.S. But that hasn’t stopped the anti-women’s health movement from dialing up efforts to eliminate access to abortion through the introduction of TRAP (“targeted regulation of abortion providers”) bills and regulations that place unreasonable requirements on health care centers. TRAP regulations have nothing to do with improving the health or safety of women, and everything to do with politics. A TRAP law passed last year in Mississippi has the potential to close the only remaining health center providing abortions in the state, and North Dakota appears on the fast track to follow suit this year.
As part of Rick Perry’s promise to make abortion “a thing of the past” in Texas, state legislators there want to impose 117 pages of new regulations virtually overnight on health centers that provide abortion. If enacted, the number of health centers that provide safe and legal in Texas could shrink from 42 to five. Mike Pence — the architect of Congress’s failed effort to “defund” Planned Parenthood — is now Governor of Indiana, where state legislators are zeroing in on a Planned Parenthood health center as part of their effort to end access to safe and legal abortion.
4) Non-surgical Abortion Bans
Women in the United States have been safely and legally using non-surgical abortion for years, but anti-women’s health activists have devoted significant attention to creating barriers and restrictions to block access. Bills restricting non-surgical abortion are being considered in states ranging from North Carolina to Arkansas to Missouri and Mississippi. In states where these restrictions have been passed, some women have been forced to have a surgical procedure when they would have chosen non-surgical abortion instead.
Non-surgical abortion gives a woman the option of a more private and what may feel like a less invasive method of ending a pregnancy, in a setting in which she feels most comfortable. With a medical professional, she decides when the abortion starts, where it should happen, and who should be with her while it is happening. And she has access to medical professionals 24 hours a day, 7 days a week if she has any questions or concerns. One in four women decide on this method, and if a woman follows the instructions provided, there are no risks to her future fertility. And medical studies have shown that non-surgical abortion is as safe and effective as a surgical abortion.
5) Biased Counseling
A woman should have accurate information about all her pregnancy options. Information should support a woman, help her make a decision for herself, and enable her to take care of her health and well-being. It should not be provided with the intent of shaming or coercing her. But, unfortunately, a number of out-of-touch politicians in states across the country have moved forward with a line of attacks that put politicians in the middle of the personal, private, medical decisions that should be left to a woman, her faith, and her family in consultation with her doctors.
Some of these bills impose mandatory waiting periods, mandatory ultrasounds, and force doctors to provide state-mandated, ideological scripts to their patients. A recent evaluation of Texas’s 2011 biased counseling law found the law does not enhance health information, but rather places unnecessary hurdles before a woman seeking to make a private medical decision. The law has the compound effect of making a woman feel ashamed, and adds additional costs to a safe and legal procedure.
A number of other states are following Texas’ lead and working to make accessing abortion even more difficult. When Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota — the only provider of safe and legal abortions in the state of South Dakota — announced that they would begin implementation of a previously enacted 72-hour waiting period, the South Dakota state legislature passed a bill that exempts weekends and holidays from the 72 hours, which means that a woman could be forced to wait as long as 5 or 6 days for an abortion.
6) “Personhood” Measures
If enacted, so-called “personhood” measures could interfere with personal, private, medical decisions relating to decisions about birth control, access to fertility treatment, management of a miscarriage, and access to safe and legal abortion. These extreme and dangerous measures have been both rejected by voters and defeated in the courts, but that hasn’t discouraged “personhood” proponents from introducing similar measures in a number of states.
Less than two years after Planned Parenthood and our allies defeated Mississippi’s so-called “personhood” ballot initiative by a wide margin, state legislators in Mississippi have announced they’re going to try to pass it again. The measure would give full constitutional rights to a fertilized egg, which could block some forms of birth control and fertility treatment.
North Dakota voters are poised to face a “personhood” measure on the ballot in 2014. The new ballot measure comes just months after North Dakotans spoke loud and clear and rejected Measure 3, a 2012 ballot measure intended to eviscerate key protections built into the Affordable Care Act, including protections that ensure American women get adequate coverage for essential health services and coverage of preventive services without a co-pay. North Dakota voters have already spoken, but politicians in Bismarck – just as politicians in state legislatures across America – are not heeding the message.
These are tough battles, and Planned Parenthood and our supporters are winning many of them. Already this year, Planned Parenthood helped defeat unconstitutional abortion bans in Colorado and Wyoming, mandatory ultrasound bills in Michigan and Tennessee, and anti-birth control bills in Virginia.