It’s barely two months into the new year, but conservative lawmakers have already introduced a startling number of invasive and punitive abortion restrictions aimed at shuttering clinics and putting the procedure out of reach for people seeking care.
What’s more, many of these proposals are carbon copies of measures that have already been declared unconstitutional in other states. This, of course, hasn’t stopped politicians from introducing them with an alarming frequency, but does provide some perspective about their disregard for people’s reproductive health and constitutional rights.
A list of five egregious proposals that have already advanced in the first two months of 2014:
The Iowa state House approved a measure to allow women who experience “physical or emotional distress” after obtaining an abortion to sue providers for up to 10 years after the procedure. As noted by the Des Moines Register, the measure creates a new “cause of action” — or the right to file a lawsuit — exclusively relating to abortion.
Doctors from across the state have rallied in opposition to the bill, arguing that such protections are already in place through current medical malpractice laws, and that creating a distinct category of legal action around abortion services would have a chilling effect on providers. The tactic of making it a financial burden or legal risk to work at a clinic is a relatively new one, though there may be a rise in such legislation in the coming year.
In addition to the cause of action proposal, House lawmakers also passed a ban on telemedicine abortion. Telemedicine allows patients — particularly patients in rural areas without access to a nearby physician — to obtain a medication abortion at a local clinic in remote consultation with a physician who practices elsewhere in the state.
“Since 2008, more than 5,000 Iowa women have accessed medication abortion delivered through telemedicine, with zero serious complications reported,” Erin Davison-Rippey, a Planned Parenthood of the Heartland policy analyst and lobbyist, told RH Reality Check. “The bottom line is, HF 2175 only makes it more difficult for a woman to access safe, legal care, and every woman deserves to have access to safe health care, regardless of her zip code.”
A federal judge has stayed an identical measure that was passed in the state last year.
Anti-choice lawmakers in Kentucky want to force women to undergo narrated ultrasounds.
The Republican-controlled Kentucky state Senate advanced a measure to force women seeking abortion care to first undergo a narrated ultrasound, which requires physicians to provide a detailed description of ultrasound images to their patients.
Kentucky already requires women to receive coercive mandatory counseling before obtaining abortion care, but the new proposal would impose fines of up to $250,000 on doctors and clinicians who do not provide a detailed description of a patient’s ultrasound. A federal judge permanently struck down a similar measure in North Carolina, ruling that such a provision harms women and serves “no legitimate purpose.” As I’ve pointed out before, forced ultrasound laws do not change women’s minds about seeking abortion, but they do present a very real burden to women seeking care.
These laws often drive up the cost of care by requiring that the ultrasound be performed by the same physician who performs the abortion. Such a requirement also contradicts medical best practice, since ultrasounds are generally provided by technicians, not physicians. The more expensive the procedure becomes, the more difficult it is to access for low-income women. This is all the more significant considering the fact that Kentucky excludes abortion care from state health exchanges in all but life-threatening cases. Instead, women are required to purchase costly riders in order to have coverage for such care.
The Kentucky state Senate has passed similar bills in the past, but they have been rejected — repeatedly — by the Democratic-controlled House.
State Sen. Whitney Westerfield, the bill’s sponsor, said that he realizes such a measure stands very little chance of becoming law, but requested people pray “to soften the hearts” of House members preparing for a vote.
Anti-choice lawmakers in South Dakota want to criminalize later-term abortions (and possibly all surgical abortions).
A proposal in South Dakota could potentially ban all surgical abortions through a prohibition on dilation and evacuation procedures, which are sometimes used in second-trimester abortions.
The procedure is used when a doctor determines that it is necessary to preserve the life and health of the patient, but if the measure passes, doctors found in violation of the law — that is, doctors who exercise medical judgment — could face up to 25 years in prison and $50,000 in fines.
The sole remaining clinic in South Dakota does not perform dilation and evacuation procedures, so pregnant patients in need of such care are referred to providers in other states. That lawmakers have introduced a measure to restrict a procedure that doesn’t even happen in the state has led several providers to believe that the broad language of the proposal is meant to criminalize all surgical abortions, including abortions much earlier into a pregnancy.
“This bill could ban any abortion past seven weeks,” one physician told RH Reality Check.
Tammi Kromenaker, director of the Red River Women’s Clinic in North Dakota, warned that any measure banning a specific medical procedure is a threat to the safe practice of medicine. “The Legislature should not be dictating medicine,” Kromenaker said. “When legislators who are not physicians attempt to use medical terms when drafting bills there are unforeseen consequences.”
Anti-choice lawmakers in Missouri want to extend the state’s mandatory waiting period to 72 hours.
Lawmakers have introduced a trio of bills aimed at extending the state’s abortion waiting period from 24 hours to 72 hours. Even as punitive waiting period requirements become more and more common, 72 hours remains on the extreme end of these measures — Utah and South Dakota are the only other states with such policies in place.
These laws force people to make multiple trips in order to access abortion care. Missouri only has a single abortion clinic to serve the entire state; a measure requiring a person to wait three full days before receiving care means that person will have to take time off work, find childcare, and secure reliable transportation for that time period, all major barriers to obtaining basic medical care.
Representatives from Missouri Right to Life testified at multiple hearings on the measures, arguing that requiring people seeking abortion care to wait 72 hours isn’t punitive, but helps “ensure that a woman [understands] the full consequences of her decision.”
But as a number of women who testified against the measure made clear, people seeking abortion care do so with the full confidence that they are making the right decision. University of Missouri master’s student Dina van der Zalm told lawmakers that she would like to testify against the measure, but would wait 72 hours before sharing her views so that they would know she meant what she said.
“I would like you to be able to trust in my opinions,” van der Zalm told her state representatives. “Since this bill … makes the assumption that women are not capable of making difficult decisions without the aid of politicians requiring additional time — an additional three days — to really think it through, then I can only assume that you’re not going to legitimately listen [to] or value the opinions I would like to state today.”
Anti-choice group behind “fetal personhood” ballot amendment in Colorado wants to define life as beginning at conception.
Voters in Colorado will decide on an amendment to recognize fetuses as potential victims of violent crimes come November of 2014.
The measure is similar to amendments introduced by Personhood Colorado in 2008, 2010 and 2012; they were defeated in 2008 and 2010, and did not receive enough signatures to get on the ballot in 2012.
“Colorado voters have resoundingly rejected these dangerous measures two times already in both 2008 and 2010 by margins of 3-to-1, and Personhood Colorado failed to gather enough signatures to qualify for the ballot in 2012,” Planned Parenthood Votes said in a statement on Amendment 67. “The 2014 ballot initiative … would lead to more government intrusion in our personal lives, including: getting into our medical records to investigate miscarriages, dictating the kinds of birth control we use, and interfering with medical decisions made by women with their doctors in treating fertility problems.”
Lynn Paltrow, executive director of National Advocates for Pregnant Women, warns that the law will actually go much further. “This measure would make every pregnant woman the potential perpetrator of a violent crime, whether she has an abortion, experiences a pregnancy loss, or goes to term having done anything including smoking a cigarette that someone views as creating a risk to the fertilized egg, embryo or fetus,” Paltrow told NBC News.
Paltrow isn’t talking about hypothetical scenarios. Legal interpretations of fetal personhood — of fetal “rights” — have put pregnant women in prison in Wisconsin and compelled a hospital in Texas to maintain the deceased body of a pregnant woman in order to incubate a fetus.
“The arguments being used to support the recriminalization of abortion not only have implications for the reproductive rights of women who want to continue their pregnancy to term,” Paltrow told Salon during a recent interview. “The impact will be — the impact has already been — to deny pregnant women their very personhood. What’s at stake is not just reproductive rights, but virtually every right we associate with constitutional personhood.”