In Arizona, a new law bars patients from seeking an abortion for genetic abnormalities.
In Montana, providers can no longer perform abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, while abortion pills, available via mail in other states, must be taken with a doctor present.
They are all part of an unprecedented storm of activity fueled by conservative legislators and aimed at restricting abortion access for millions of Americans. In a four-day span from April 26 to 29, 28 new restrictions were signed into law in seven states, the most antiabortion legislation to become law in a single week in more than a decade, according to a new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit research center that supports abortion rights.
As of April 29, the report found, there had been 536 abortion restrictions put forward across 46 states since January, with 61 of those bills being enacted.
The volume of bills being proposed is historic, representing a new high water mark of antiabortion legislation, said Elizabeth Nash, who analyzes state policy for the Guttmacher Institute and co-authored the analysis.
Following the institute’s report, Susan B. Anthony List, an antiabortion advocacy group, applauded the surge of restrictions.
“The unprecedented surge of pro-life activity in state legislatures this year proves life is winning in America,” SBA List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said in a statement, adding, “The states are sending an unmistakable message to pro-abortion Democrats nationwide — and to the Supreme Court — that the pro-life movement will never rest until unborn children and their mothers are protected in the law.”
There have been more bills opposing abortion over the past decade than in any time since the 1973 landmark Supreme Court case Roe v. Wade, which guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion. What makes 2021 unique is the variations on restrictions, Nash explained.
Before 2019, state legislatures tacked on requirements to legal abortions that made the procedure harder to access — mandating abortion counseling and waiting periods, for example, or restricting the kinds of facilities that could provide abortion services.
But 2019 marked a change in tactics: States began banning abortions outright.
Nash said she finds the mix “striking.”
Lawmakers, she said, are responding to the 2020 Supreme Court ruling in June Medical Services v. Russo, which narrowly struck down a Louisiana law that would have left the state with only two doctors who could perform abortions. Nash, alongside some legal scholars, saw in Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr.’s opinion a suggestion that other kinds of restrictions could be found constitutional.
Since then, with the addition of Justice Amy Coney Barrett late last year, the court has gotten more conservative. The bans on abortions after six weeks — also known as “heartbeat” bills ― seem designed to kick-start direct challenges to abortion rights, Nash said, while other restrictions are aimed at taking effect immediately.
Such bills, even when they do not pass, can confuse patients, who may not be aware of which laws are in effect and which are not, Nash said. But the restrictions that do get enacted — banning abortion coverage in health plans or 72-hour waiting periods — can be enough to deter those seeking abortion care.
“Any one restriction can be the straw that breaks the camel’s back for any patient,” Nash said. “There are all sorts of restrictions that, when you put them together — particularly when you put them together — it can be incredibly difficult to access services.”
That has been the case in Florida, said Amy Weintraub, a program director at Progress Florida, a left-leaning advocacy group. While Florida legislators haven’t passed any new bills against abortion this year, restrictions in other states have driven up the cost of abortion services across the South, and a growing number of people must rely on abortion funds to help pay for their procedures.
She pointed to the Tampa Bay Abortion Fund, which recently noted on its Facebook page that the number of people seeking help accessing abortion care rose from 75 in 2019 to 249 in just the first four months of this year.
According to Weintraub, who cited conversations with abortion funds and providers, an increasing number of people from neighboring states have traveled to Florida to get care because it’s so difficult to access it in their home state.
“They are all talking about the uptick in patients who are coming to us from Alabama, Louisiana, Mississippi, Tennessee,” she said.
As far as bans go, Weintraub said it feels as if Florida’s abortion rights advocates “escaped by the skin of our teeth.”
Nash said she anticipates more legislation from Louisiana, Missouri and Montana. Texas also has a “very full agenda” on abortion over the next few weeks, she added, including a fetal-heartbeat bill that would also allow anyone in Texas to sue any abortion provider believed to have violated state guidelines for abortion care, as well as any person who “aids and abets” in the service, reports San Antonio’s Spectrum News.
Additional bills in the state include a law banning pill-induced abortions at seven weeks (the Food and Drug Administration says abortion pills are safe until 10 weeks) and a law that would immediately ban nearly all abortions after six weeks in the state if Roe v. Wade is overturned, including in cases of rape or incest, writes the Texas Tribune.
Jeanne Mancini, the president of March for Life, an antiabortion advocacy group, said this kind of state-level approach will continue. “We expect this important work in the states to continue so long as our laws fail to protect the dignity and worth of every human person, but the actions of the current administration on abortion certainly provide the pro-life movement additional motivation,” she said.
This was echoed by Mallory Quigley, an executive at Susan B. Anthony List. Conservative legislators anticipated that the Biden administration will expand access, but they also know “there is a ticking clock until [the Supreme Court] has to address abortion issues.”
Quigley said antiabortion activists are particularly heartened by the progress of “discrimination” bills — legislation that prevents people from terminating a pregnancy based on genetic abnormalities in the fetus. She pointed to one such Ohio law recently upheld by a federal appeals court.
“This is really exciting for pro-life advocates who are looking at the change in the lower courts; who are looking to elicit a response from the Supreme Court,” she said.
Kamyon Conner, executive director of the Texas Equal Access Fund, which provides financial support to those seeking abortions, said allowing civil suits would be an unprecedented move to punish abortion providers and advocates. She said such suits could hinge on infractions such as not waiting the full 24 hours required between a consultation and the abortion.
“I see this as a way for them to not only attack abortion providers in a new way but to be able to attack abortion funds, which used to be a little bit off the radar,” Conner said. Not only could abortion funders be sued under the Texas bill, but so could escorts who walk patients into abortion clinics, or friends and family members who drive their loved ones to get an abortion.
Conner fears the bill not only will be signed into law but will become a blueprint for other states to follow.
“Texas is like a landmark place for abortion access,” Conner said. “Roe v Wade came out of Texas.”
During a debate at the Texas Capitol last week, state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R), author of the bill that would ban abortions after six weeks, argued that bill would “protect our most vulnerable Texans when the heartbeat is present,” Spectrum News reported.
According to one exchange documented by the Texas Tribune, when one Texas Democrat said there was “no way” that the state’s pre-Roe statutes were still enforceable, Chelsey Youman, an executive with the antiabortion group the Human Coalition, countered, “Perhaps we’ll find out from the new makeup of the Supreme Court soon.” The Human Coalition did not respond to an interview request for this report.
The proposals highlight how “fragile and limited” abortion is in Texas, Conner said.
“Roe doesn’t do what people think it does,” she said. “Honestly, Roe has been chipped away at in our state.”