Abortion report card: Half of states get an 'F' from activist group

Access to abortion has been whittled back, NARAL Pro-Choice America says in its annual report. But 12 states still deserve an 'A,' and elections can be pivotal in battleground states like Virginia.

Tamir Kalifa/AP
Anti-abortion rights supporter Katherine Aguilar holds a crucifix and prays while opponents and supporters of abortion rights gather in the State Capitol rotunda in Austin, Texas in July 2013.

NARAL Pro-Choice America surveys the abortion rights landscape, and sees multiple pictures.

First, it sees a nation that has steadily whittled back access to abortion, with fully half the states deserving an “F” on the group’s reproductive rights “report card.” But it also sees a dozen states earning an “A” grade, many of them having passed measures in recent years to bolster access to reproductive health services.

And like the political map of the country, there are the “purple” battleground states, where competing efforts to expand, pull back, or hold steady on abortion access can hinge on elections for governor and the state legislature.

In 2013, 24 states enacted 52 anti-abortion measures, while 10 states enacted 16 pro-abortion-rights measures, NARAL finds in its annual report, called “Who Decides?” Since 1995, states have enacted 807 anti-abortion measures. 

“The anti-choice war on women did not slow down in 2013,” says NARAL's president, Ilyse Hogue, in the report. “You can be sure it will only ramp up further in 2014 as the mid-term elections approach."

For social conservatives, the cause of protecting unborn children, including at the earliest stages of fetal development, is just as dearly held. And as society increasingly accepts gay rights, once the companion issue to abortion for religious conservatives, the abortion battle has only risen in importance. In red states, it is perhaps the top issue for legislators seeking to burnish their social conservative bona fides in November.

A divided Congress, and a Democrat in the White House, has kept abortion rights on the back burner in Washington. The Supreme Court has also kept the issue mostly at arms length.

On Wednesday, the high court will hear a Massachusetts case centered on the free speech rights of abortion protesters at clinics. On Monday, it declined to take a case examining the constitutionality of an Arizona law banning most abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals had invalidated the law.

But 11 other states have similar laws on the books, as well as dozens of others meant to effectively ban abortion outright or regulate its practice. Supporters of such regulations say they are trying to protect the health of women. Opponents say the restrictions are meant to block access to the procedure.

Last year, Arkansas enacted eight anti-abortion laws, the most of any state, including a ban on abortion after 12 weeks’ gestation. North Dakota enacted a ban on abortion as early as six weeks. Texas enacted a series of regulations, including a requirement that an abortion doctor have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Since the law went into effect, a dozen abortion clinics in the state have closed.  

On the pro-abortion-rights side of the ledger, California passed more laws than any other state, with four. Most notable was its law that allows nurse practitioners, certified nurse-midwives, and physician assistants to perform early-stage abortions.

But no state exemplifies the importance of elections in recent times more than Virginia. The Democratic sweep of statewide offices last November means that newly installed Gov. Terry McAuliffe and Attorney General Mark Herring can have an immediate impact on the implementation of the laws regulating abortion clinics, even if the state legislature likely is not inclined to overturn the laws themselves. Laws passed under the previous administration resulted in the closure of some clinics.

Abortion proved to be a potent issue for Governor McAuliffe in a state now firmly established as an electoral battleground. According to the exit polls, 20 percent of voters ranked abortion as their No. 1 issue, and among those “abortion voters,” McAuliffe had a 25-point advantage. He also won with the help of a strong gender gap. 

“What we saw is voters sending a message,” says Ms. Hogue.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.