WASHINGTON ― 2016 was a watershed year for reproductive rights: The U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark victory to abortion rights supporters in June that warned states not to pass laws that impose a burden on women’s access to abortion without any medical justification.
Still, Republican state legislatures enacted more than 60 abortion restrictions this year and introduced more than 500, according to an analysis by the Center for Reproductive Rights. Ten anti-abortion laws were ruled unconstitutional and blocked by the courts, but lawmakers are outpacing the lawsuits and finding new ways to chip away at reproductive rights.
“Undoubtedly, this new barrage of attacks shows that the anti-abortion movement has abandoned its pretense of protecting women’s health and safety, instead making it crystal-clear that the end goal is attacking family planning providers and banning abortion care altogether,” the report states.
Louisiana’s state legislature launched the strongest attack on abortion rights this year, passing seven new laws that restrict access to the procedure. Among other things, the restrictions triple the state’s mandatory waiting period before an abortion from 24 to 72 hours; they ban the dilation and evacuation procedure, the safest and most common abortion method used in the second trimester; they ban abortions after 20 weeks in cases of genetic abnormalities; and they require women to have their fetal tissue buried or cremated after an abortion. The Center for Reproductive Rights challenged all seven of Louisiana’s new restrictions before they went into effect, and the state agreed not to enforce them while litigation proceeds.
Indiana, under the leadership of Vice President-elect Mike Pence (R), enacted an anti-abortion omnibus bill with a slew of new restrictions. The law requires women to receive state-mandated counseling and an ultrasound at least 18 hours before the procedure, forcing women to make two separate trips to the clinic. It also prohibits women from choosing abortion if the fetus is diagnosed with a genetic anomaly, and mandates that fetal tissue be cremated or buried. A federal district court blocked the law in June, ruling that the restrictions are unconstitutional and unrelated to any legitimate state interest.
Other state laws have gone into effect. Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed a bill into law that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy ― two to four weeks earlier than the viability standard set by the Supreme Court. Oklahoma enacted an unprecedented law called the “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act,” which, among other things, requires public restrooms in restaurants, hospitals, schools and hotels to post signs that urge pregnant women to carry to term. Eight states passed laws intended to defund Planned Parenthood, the nation’s largest family planning provider, and eight states banned or restricted the donation of fetal tissue for medical research after an abortion.
The slew of new laws continues a six-year trend toward eliminating access to abortion. States have enacted more than 300 restrictions since 2011. The Supreme Court’s decision this year in Whole Women’s Health vs. Hellerstedt only struck down two of these laws ― a pair of restrictions in Texas that required abortions to take place in ambulatory surgical centers, or mini-hospitals, and required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. But it set a legal standard on which courts can rely as they consider laws that restrict access to abortion without any benefit to women’s health.
Republicans may be emboldened to pass even more anti-abortion laws in 2017, since President-Elect Donald Trump and his administration are friendly to the cause. Reproductive rights advocates are counting on the courts to block these efforts.
“As we embark on 2017, we must hold our leaders accountable to the Constitutional protections guaranteed in Whole Woman’s Health,” said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights. “A woman’s ability to access basic reproductive health care services like contraception or a safe, legal abortion are essential to her health and well-being.”