State abor­tion re­stric­tions surge

‘Brick by brick,’ ac­cess to the pro­ce­dure in many re­gions is be­ing limited, ac­tivists say.

Los Angeles Times - - THE NATION - By Maria L. La Ganga maria.la­ganga@la­times.com Twit­ter: @mar­i­ala­ganga

SEAT­TLE — With state leg­is­la­tures across the coun­try pass­ing dozens of abor­tion re­stric­tions for the fifth year, ac­cess is be­com­ing more limited than at any time since the Supreme Court’s land­mark de­ci­sion le­gal­iz­ing the pro­ce­dure in 1973.

The cur­rent leg­isla­tive ses­sion is shap­ing up to be among the most ac­tive, and abor­tion rights ad­vo­cates point to what they call an alarm­ing re­sult of the steady flow of new laws: In some states, so many lim­i­ta­tions have piled up that the pro­ce­dure, while tech­ni­cally legal, is nearly im­pos­si­ble to ob­tain.

“It is a cul­mi­na­tion of the wave of re­stric­tions of the past three years,” said Nancy Northup, pres­i­dent of the Cen­ter for Re­pro­duc­tive Rights. “You see one type of re­stric­tion fol­low­ing an­other, fol­low­ing an­other. When you put them all to­gether, the re­sult is a closing-off of ac­cess.”

Jen­nifer Dal­ven, direc­tor of the ACLU’s Re­pro­duc­tive Free­dom Project, de­scribes it as “putting up a wall brick by brick by brick, slowly, so no one no­tices.” She points to Arkansas as among the states where the lim­i­ta­tions have piled up — more than a dozen since 2011.

“If you look at each abor­tion re­stric­tion in iso­la­tion, you may think, it’s not great. It’s not what should be the law. But I’m not go­ing to get worked up,” Dal­ven said. “But if you put it down on pa­per ... it be­comes very clear what the state is try­ing to do — pre­vent a woman who’s de­cided to have an abor­tion from ac­tu­ally get­ting one.”

North Carolina and Ok­la­homa in­creased wait­ing pe­ri­ods to 72 hours. Kansas and Ok­la­homa banned di­la­tion and evac­u­a­tion, the most com­mon sur­gi­cal method of end­ing a preg­nancy in the sec­ond trimester. Arkansas be­gan re­quir­ing doc­tors to tell women that fe­tuses can feel pain.

The back­drop for the lat­est burst of abor­tion re­stric­tions is the Supreme Court, which is poised to an­nounce as soon as Mon­day whether it will weigh in on the con­tentious is­sue in a ma­jor way for the first time since 1992. It is con­sid­er­ing whether to hear two abor­tion-re­lated cases, one from Mis­sis­sippi, the other from North Carolina.

Carol To­bias, pres­i­dent of the Na­tional Right to Life Com­mit­tee, cred­its “chang­ing at­ti­tudes in the public” with the an­tiabor­tion move­ment’s suc­cesses.

“Peo­ple are more will­ing to place lim­its on abor­tion,” said To­bias, whose or­ga­ni­za­tion has af­fil­i­ates in all 50 states and works with leg­is­la­tors to craft bills. “The laws that are go­ing through, most peo­ple think are rea­son­able and sup­port them.”

Laws that re­quire women to wait be­tween the ini­tial con­sul­ta­tion and the pro­ce­dure have been a foun­da­tion of an­tiabor­tion ef­forts. The Guttmacher In­sti­tute, a re­pro­duc­tive rights re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion, counts 26 states with such mea­sures.

Since April, five states have ei­ther in­sti­tuted a wait­ing pe­riod or in­creased one. On Wed­nes­day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott signed HB 633, putting in place a 24-hour de­lay for the first time. And North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory signed HB 465 on June 5, tripling his state’s wait­ing pe­riod from one to three days. The other states are Ten­nessee, Ok­la­homa and Arkansas.

To To­bias, such de­lays are states’ way of say­ing “make sure she has good in­for­ma­tion and time to think about it.”

But abor­tion rights ad­vo­cates ar­gue that such de­lays of­ten re­quire mul­ti­ple clinic vis­its, in­creased travel costs and time off work, and can force women to have abor­tions later in their preg­nan­cies and in­crease the risk.

“This is as if leg­is­la­tures are say­ing, ‘ Women re­ally can’t make this de­ci­sion, don’t know what is best for them­selves and their fam­i­lies, and if we make them wait an­other day or two, they’ll see the light,’ ” said the ACLU’s Dal­ven.

This year, Arkansas has passed about half a dozen new re­stric­tions on abor­tion, in­clud­ing mea­sures that would re­quire women seek­ing a med­i­ca­tion abor­tion to make as many as four vis­its to a clinic.

Med­i­ca­tion abor­tions are a two-step pro­ce­dure. First, a health­care provider gives the pa­tient mifepri­s­tone while she is at a clinic. The drug blocks the hor­mone pro­ges­terone, caus­ing the lining of the uterus to break down. Two days later, while at home, the pa­tient takes miso­pros­tol, which causes the uterus to empty.

Arkansas’ new laws in­clude in­creas­ing the wait­ing pe­riod from 24 to 48 hours, re­quir­ing that pre-abor­tion coun­sel­ing be done in per­son, mak­ing it harder for mi­nors to ob­tain an abor­tion even with the con­sent of a par­ent, telling women that fe­tuses feel pain at 20 weeks, coun­sel­ing them that med­i­ca­tion abor­tions can be reversed, and re­quir­ing physi­cians who ad­min­is­ter only med­i­ca­tion abor­tions to have ad­mit­ting priv­i­leges at a hos­pi­tal.

Arkansas “is an ex­am­ple of a state that has changed ac­cess,” said El­iz­a­beth Nash, a pol­icy an­a­lyst at the Guttmacher In­sti­tute. “We’ve seen sim­i­lar dra­matic changes in places like Kansas, Texas, Ari­zona, Ok­la­homa and North Carolina.”

In terms of ac­cess, “in some ways it looks like what we saw be­fore” Roe vs. Wade, Nash said, re­fer­ring to the 1973 de­ci­sion that af­firmed a woman’s right to the pro­ce­dure. “What you’re see­ing is ac­cess main­tained for the most part along the West Coast and in the North­east, but real in­cur­sions in ac­cess in the South and mid­dle of the coun­try.”

The re­stric­tions, said Ce­cile Richards, pres­i­dent of the Planned Par­ent­hood Ac­tion Fund, are “an­other cyn­i­cal at­tempt to ban safe, legal abor­tion.... A woman’s right to make per­sonal, med­i­cal de­ci­sions about abor­tion shouldn’t de­pend on where she lives.”

Su­san Walsh As­so­ci­ated Press

REP. CATHY McMor­ris Rodgers (R-Wash.) speaks at a May news con­fer­ence on the so-called Pain-Ca­pa­ble Un­born Child Pro­tec­tion Act, which would ban late-term abor­tions. It passed the House along party lines.

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