Anti-Abortion Activists Pass Dozens of Laws Restricting Reproductive Rights in GOP State Legislatures Across the U.S.

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Posted May 1, 2013

Interview with Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute, conducted by Melinda Tuhus


Over the past few months, many states controlled by a Republican governor and legislature seem to be in a race to see who can craft the most restrictive abortion laws. The winner as of now is North Dakota, which passed a law limiting abortions to the first six weeks of pregnancy. So far 10 states have passed bans after 20 weeks; 7 have gone into effect, while 3 – in Georgia, Idaho and Arizona – are being challenged in federal court.

Meanwhile, 26 states have passed laws imposing new restrictive building code standards specifically targeting abortion clinics, most of which are not related to patient care. And four states have recently adopted legislation requiring that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals. That law in Mississippi, if it goes into effect, would result in the closing of the state's only abortion clinic, because doctors currently travel from out-of-state to perform abortions.

After Kansas Republican Gov. Sam Brownback signed a new anti-abortion law that declares life begins at conception, blocks tax breaks for abortion providers and requires doctors to falsely warn patients that abortion can cause breast cancer, New York and Washington state are moving to ease restrictions with some abortion procedures. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute's Washington, D.C. office. Here, she discusses the success anti-abortion activists have had in passing dozens of new laws restricting women’s reproductive rights in state legislatures across the U.S.

ELIZABETH NASH: The action around abortion restrictions and bans has really escalated since the 2010 election. And this year, I wouldn't say so much that the volume has gone up, but certainly the extreme nature of these restrictions has shown up in the sense that we are now talking about bans instead of burdensome restrictions. And I think what makes this 2.5-year wave so interesting, and so harmful, is that the kinds of restrictions that we started seeing in the '80s and into the '90s – the waiting periods and the counseling requirements and parental involvement requirements – those kinds of restrictions for the most part have fallen by the wayside, and now we're seeing much more burdensome restrictions become law. In some ways, it's the same old, same old, but, for example, a waiting period that gets passed now is a 72-hour waiting period rather than a 24-hour waiting period. And now, this year, we are starting to see some very aggressive abortion bans. We've seen the North Dakota bill become law, and that bans abortion at six weeks of pregnancy. In Arkansas, we saw a ban at 12 weeks of pregnancy. And these bills are just incredibly extreme and very harmful for women's health. Women will not be able to access abortions in North Dakota should that law go into effect.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Many people – including some abortion foes – are saying these new laws would never pass constitutional muster because of the Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade. What do you think about the legality of these and do you think any of them would survive a constitutional challenge?

ELIZABETH NASH: What the Supreme Court has said is that abortion may be legal until viability, that a state cannot ban abortion before that point, and after viability a state may limit access to abortion but must include protections for the woman's life and health. And by viability, we mean when a doctor determines that a fetus can survive outside the womb, and that can be with some medical assistance, but it really is how far along the fetus is developed so it can survive outside the womb.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Elizabeth Nash, I heard an interview with the North Dakota legislator who spearheaded the passage of the extremely restrictive bill there, and she was saying that with all the medical advances in the past 40 years, since Roe v. Wade was decided, the age of viability has shrunk so that younger fetuses can survive outside the womb.

ELIZABETH NASH: Viability in 1970 was considered around 26 weeks; now we're looking at 24, 25 weeks. So the difference isn't that much – there is a difference – but it's not as big as some make it out to be. Certainly, we've had advances in medical science, but each pregnancy develops at a different rate, and each woman needs to be evaluated by a provider. That's why the Supreme Court did not say, you can have an abortion up to 24 weeks. They picked "viability" specifically because each pregnancy develops at a different rate, and that seems to be a good demarcation of viability. So what we're seeing now and over the past couple of years are laws that would ban abortion at 20 weeks post-fertilization, which is before viability, and they have very limited exceptions that don't include what the U.S. Supreme Court meant by "life and health." So we saw those for the past couple of years, and now this year we saw the 12-week abortion ban in Arkansas and the 6-week abortion ban in North Dakota. Now, what we're seeing in the legal system are that some of these 20-week abortion bans are being challenged, and the Arkansas 12-week abortion ban has been challenged, and we're expecting a challenge in the 6-week abortion ban in North Dakota. And what that means is that we're going to have to wait for a couple of years to find out what the judges say and how these cases wind their way through the legal system. Up until this year, people were really looking at Arizona, where there is a law that bans abortion before viability. It's in the federal courts and that's the law that everyone was looking at to be, perhaps, a challenge to Roe. Perhaps that would make it up to the Supreme Court. And now we have these earlier bans that are also going to make their way up through the legal system.

For more analysis and commentary on the continuing battle over reproductive rights, visit the Guttmacher Institute's website at

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