Abortion war twist: spike in measures favoring access

State legislators have introduced 64 measures aimed at protecting or expanding access to abortion this year. That's the biggest number in 25 years. But anti-abortion measures still outnumber them by far.

John Hanna/AP
Democratic Kansas state Sens. David Haley (l) and Laura Kelly (r.) confer during a Senate debate at the statehouse in Topeka Saturday on a bill making technical changes in antiabortion laws. Both opposed the measure, which passed and is going to Gov. Sam Brownback.

The battle against abortion rights continued apace in the first quarter of 2014. Legislators in 38 states introduced 303 provisions seeking to limit women’s access to abortion.

But the data also show a twist: a spike in efforts to protect or increase access to abortion. In the first three months of 2014, legislators introduced 64 measures in 17 states aimed at protecting or expanding access to abortion – more than had been introduced in any year of the last 25, according to the pro-abortion-rights Guttmacher Institute in New York.

The wave of pro-abortion-rights measures is “the result of several years of being pummeled by abortion opponents,” says Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at Guttmacher and co-author of the report released Wednesday.

In 2013, 22 states enacted 70 antiabortion measures. The year before, 43 restrictions on abortion were enacted at the state level, and in 2011, the figure was 92.

So far this year, legislators in 17 states have introduced pro-abortion-rights measures. “Most of these bills won’t see the light of day, but they certainly signal that people have had enough of these abortion restrictions,” says Ms. Nash.

Two states have enacted pro-abortion-rights measures this year. Vermont repealed its ban on abortion that pre-dated the 1973 Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide. In Utah, Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed a measure that waives the state’s requirements for counseling and an ultrasound before an abortion when the woman’s life or health is in danger and in cases of severe fetal abnormality.

In three states, at least one chamber of the legislature has passed a measure protecting or expanding abortion rights:

New Hampshire: The measure would establish a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics in the state. It is meant to protect access to the clinic by clients who might otherwise be obstructed or bothered by protesters. In January, the US Supreme Court heard a case challenging a Massachusetts law that creates 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics. A decision is pending.

New York: The bill would permit abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy, and when the woman’s life or health is at risk.

Washington: The measure would require insurance plans in the state to cover abortion if they cover maternity care.

Last year, California and Colorado enacted the first state laws since 2006 favoring abortion rights. California now allows nurse practitioners to provide first-trimester abortions. Colorado repealed its pre-Roe ban on abortion.

But in many states, the legislative trends still go heavily against abortion rights. So far this year, two states have passed laws reducing access. Indiana banned most abortion coverage in private insurance plans. South Dakota banned abortion for the purpose of sex selection. 

The 17 states in which pro-abortion-rights measures have been introduced this year are Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Massachusetts, Michigan, Nebraska, New Hampshire, New York, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Utah, Virginia, Vermont, and Wisconsin

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