Access to safe and legal abortion is being constantly threatened in the United States.
The war on abortion has been waging for years, having escalated sharply in recent months under Trump’s leadership. The administration is openly anti-abortion: President Trump has identified as pro-life, and exercised his Presidential right to appoint a Supreme Court Justice who has an explicit anti-abortion record. Vice President Pence has also said that he believes wholeheartedly that abortion should be illegal.
Unfortunately, this stance is shared by many across the country and there are already many laws in place on the state level that restrict access to abortion. Though states cannot outright ban abortion because of the Roe v. Wade decision, which makes access to abortion legal, they can restrict access to abortions to the point where it’s almost impossible to get one. They do this by exploiting a loophole in the Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision, which says that states can make laws that restrict abortions as long as those laws don’t create an “undue burden” for women seeking abortions. Of course, “undue burden” is ridiculously vague, and states have exploited this vague language to severely restrict abortion access, especially in the South.
In order to fight against the removal of reproductive choice, we must be informed about how the states are trying to take these rights. We must understand the arguments they’re making and the loopholes they’re exploiting in order to fight back.
So, here’s your crash course in abortion policy from all over the country.
Restrictions on who can perform abortions: 38 states require that only licensed physicians can perform abortions, which is actually a good thing because we want abortions to be safe, right? But many of these states require specific licensing, so specific in fact, that abortion providers don’t have the licensing required. 18 states have legislation that states after a certain point in the pregnancy the abortion can only be performed in a hospital, which causes a problem because in 42 states hospitals can refuse to perform abortions. These laws are aimed at making abortion less accessible by limiting the number of people who can legally perform abortions in a state.
Requiring abortion clinics to meet outrageous standards: 17 states currently have legislation which forces abortion clinics meet certain structural standards in order to remain open. These laws regulate everything from the size of the procedure rooms to the width of the corridors. In six of these states abortion clinics are required to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, which brings us back to the fact that hospitals can refuse to perform abortions. These laws seek to close down abortion clinics, giving women who are seeking abortions less options of where to obtain one.
Forcing women to jump through hoops in order to obtain an abortion: 16 states force women to receive counseling before allowing her to go through with an abortion. In 12 states the doctor is actually required to tell the woman that her fetus can feel pain. 27 states have a waiting period for abortions. These waiting periods vary per state, but typically the woman must have an appointment at least 24 hours in advance of her abortion appointment. This becomes a huge scheduling burden for women, especially if they have to travel far because there are no clinics near them. 37 states require a parent to approve the abortion if the girl seeking the abortion is a minor. These laws attempt to make the process of seeking and obtaining an abortion so inconvenient and emotionally exhausting that women don’t want to get abortions.
Some of the outrageous abortion policy that’s been passed or currently under review on the state level:
Texas: Texas’ Senate Bill 25, which restricts abortions in the second trimester, was just passed in March. The bill requires doctors to confirm that a fetus is dead before performing an abortion in the second trimester. The biggest problem with this is that the second trimester is usually when birth defects are discovered, so if a baby is going to be born with debilitating birth defects, an abortion may be the best option for the baby and the family. But that’s no longer legal in Texas. This bill gives doctors who are anti-abortion incentive to withhold information about the status of a fetus in order to prevent abortion.
Ohio: Ohio is still embroiled in debate over their wildly controversial “Heartbeat Bill.” The bill originally proposed a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks, but an amendment was added that proposed banning all abortions if a heartbeat could be detected. This would effectively ban abortions as a heartbeat can be heard before a woman even knows she’s pregnant.
Tennessee: In April, Tennessee passed a bill that would make it a felony for doctors to perform an abortion after 20 weeks unless they could prove that the fetus was not viable or that the mother’s life was in danger. Imposing such strict consequences for doctors performing abortions will lead to less doctors who are willing to perform abortions.
Illinois and Minnesota: Both of these states recently passed legislation that prevents low income women from using state or federally sponsored insurance, including Medicaid, to pay for an abortion. So, they would have to pay for the abortion out of pocket. These laws are classist as well as anti-woman.
Iowa: Iowa recently passed a law that would require women seeking an abortion wait for 72 hours after their initial appointment. This is far longer than most states that implement a waiting period. Planned Parenthood petitioned for a hold on the implementation on the law while it’s constitutionality under the “undue burden” clause in Planned Parenthood v Casey can be reviewed. Luckily, an injunction was filed, but the law is still on the books.
Kentucky: Kentucky only has one abortion clinic left and they’re trying to get rid of it. Kentucky is one of the states that requires that abortion clinics have admitting privileges at a local hospital, and the hospital closest to Kentucky’s only abortion clinic is currently refusing to give them admitting privileges because it’s against their religion.
Of course, there was also big news about restricting abortion on the federal level this last week as well. The American Healthcare Act (AHCA) passed the House, bringing it one step closer to being a reality. The AHCA will make it extremely difficult for women to access safe abortions. The bill will defund Planned Parenthood, closing abortion clinics all over the country. The AHCA will also remove federal funding to insurance companies for abortion services, so many insurance companies will choose not to cover abortion services.
Things are not looking good for abortion in the country right now, but we cannot lose hope. It’s up to us to fight to maintain the right to safely access abortions. It’s up to us to fight for the right to make decisions about our own bodies. We have the power to resist as long as we are well informed.