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WASHINGTON, D.C. - Limiting abortion resurfaced as a Republican campaign promise in the 2014 midterms. But the chatter that helped make some candidates into congressmen largely died after a 20-week abortion bill stalled right out of the gate. At the state level, however, abortion foes are still at it – and they’re doing more than talking.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks and reports data on abortion legislation, there have been 322 restrictive abortion measures filed across 43 states in the first quarter of 2015. That number isn’t particularly shocking compared to recent years. Since 2010 there has consistently been a high volume of restrictions floated in statehouses, but most never see a governor’s pen. The real 2015 surge is the number of bills that have – and will become – law.
“The kind of year we’re looking at around abortion restrictions is one that we’re going to see well into the double digits,” said Elizabeth Nash, the Guttmacher Institute’s senior state issues associate.
The Guttmacher Institute reported that, as of April 1, nine restrictive abortion measures already had been enacted at the state level. Since the report was published, Arkansas and Kansas signed two more abortion-related bills. This stands in sharp contrast to this time last year when only three measures had become law.
Nash said that an uptick in successful legislation is common after an election year. This fall, Arkansas and Arizona ushered in two new Republican governors – Arkansas’ Asa Hutchinson and Arizona’s Doug Ducey – who have both signed multiple abortion measures into law in their first 90 days in office. Arkansas, with its five, seemed particularly aggressive; perhaps the Republican-controlled House and Senate were eager for action after eight years of Democratic vetoes under former governor Mike Beebe.
The 2015 salvo is also remarkable because of two first-of-their-kind restrictive bills. On Tuesday, Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback signed a bill banning the most common second-trimester abortion method, which anti-abortion groups call “dismemberment abortions.”
“The Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act is the first of what we hope will be many laws banning dismemberment abortions,” National Right to Life President Carol Tobias said in a statement. “This law has the power to transform the landscape of abortion policy in the United States.”
Similar bills, inspired by model legislation from National Right to Life, have been filed in Missouri and South Carolina. Oklahoma’s iteration is waiting on a signature from Gov. Mary Fallin.
A second pioneering restriction has been enacted in Arizona and Arkansas which requires providers to inform women that abortions can be reversed. According to a case study by Dr. George Delgado, medical director of the Culture of Life Family Services in San Diego, taking progesterone can reverse a medication-induced abortion.
The bill’s supporters say it will give women as much information as possible. Critics say that it turns women into test subjects for a largely disputed method.
“We’d never seen language like this before,” Nash said. “Abortion counseling has been used as a vehicle to promote misleading and inaccurate information, and this is the newest way that we’re seeing that happen.”
But although these approaches are new, the motive is not. By not reinventing the wheel, it makes it easier for abortion opponents to further legislate abortions.
“So many restrictions have been adopted over the past four years that what we see now, often times, are bills that look at existing restrictions to make them more burdensome,” Nash said. “Part of some of the rhetoric is, ‘Well, we already require abortion counseling. This is just one more piece of information.’ It makes it sound benign when it’s not.”
The assault on abortion access has been nearly constant in the last four years. But with a midterm push and a few new tricks, the 2015 battles could be more detrimental.