(Photo: Yahoo Health/iStock)
“I’m disappointed to report that the state of the reproductive union is precarious in 2016,” said National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL) Pro-Choice America President Ilyse Hogue on a press call Wednesday, Jan. 20, reviewing the reproductive rights advocacy group’s 25th annual report, “The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States.” Hogue noted that while the U.S. on the whole earned a grade of D, 27 states — more than half the country — earned an F.
The NARAL Pro-Choice America report states that in 2015, 22 states enacted 41 anti-choice measures, the most since 2008. In the past 20 years, 876 anti-choice measures have been enacted on the state level. The group notes that presently 23 states have what they define as anti-choice governments; in other words, 23 states have legislatures controlled by both an anti-choice majority of state legislators and an anti-choice governor.
Arkansas enacted the most anti-choice legislation in 2015, with seven measures, including extending its 24-hour mandatory-delay law for abortion care to 48 hours and introducing laws that require women to receive biased counseling before receiving an abortion. This counseling includes medically inaccurate language linking abortion to breast cancer, forcing all women seeking abortion care to first undergo an ultrasound procedure that neither she wants nor her doctor recommends, restricting access to medication-induced abortion, and enacting laws to both restrict young women’s access to abortion and prohibit organizations that provide abortion care from receiving certain public funds.
However, on Tuesday, Jan. 19, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected a bid by Arkansas to revive a state law blocked by a lower court that had banned abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy.
Presently, 44 states and the District of Columbia have measures on the books subjecting abortion providers to restrictions not imposed on other medical professionals in what are known as TRAP laws, or Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers.
Hogue called TRAP laws, including those that comprise Texas’s HB2 legislation, the constitutionality of which will be argued before the Supreme Court in March, “the greatest threat to reproductive freedom since Roe,” legislation that is the “difference between clinics remaining open and accessible to all women” as opposed to having increased barriers implemented to “stop women from getting this vital care.” As Hogue noted, research has shown that when barriers to abortion care increase, “the number of abortions doesn’t go down — the number of deaths and injuries goes up. We have to trust women to make their own decisions about their bodies and lives.” Recent reports from Texas reflect this, with the number of self-induced abortions rising.
Last year also saw two states implement a new form of abortion ban: Kansas and Oklahoma now have laws that ban D&E (dilation and evacuation) procedures, the most common type of second-trimester abortion procedure. D&E is also a common procedure after an incomplete miscarriage to avoid infection.
Presently, per the NARAL report, 29 states prohibit insurance plans from covering abortion services for all or some residents of the state, 11 states expressly prohibit abortion coverage in the entire private insurance market, 23 states expressly prohibit abortion coverage in state insurance exchanges, and 17 states expressly prohibit abortion coverage for public employees.
“As we move into election work, we absolutely need champions,” says Hogue regarding looking forward at the year ahead. “Champions who don’t just vote with us but are out on the stump and talking about this issue and why it’s so essential to women’s agency and empowerment.” Hogue added that this is what led to NARAL’s recent endorsement of former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton for president.
Hogue points out that Clinton has not only campaigned to expand funding women’s health care but has also made the repeal of the Hyde Amendment a critical campaign issue.
This past year saw many in the GOP repeatedly vote to defund Planned Parenthood and to repeal the Affordable Care Act, a measure that expanded contraception access and health care to 55 million American women. In 2016 already, the first vote that this Congress and House Speaker Paul Ryan decided to take up was a repeal of the Affordable Care Act and another effort to defund Planned Parenthood.
On the 43rd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling on Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed the constitutional right to safe and legal abortion for all women in the United States, the 2016 presidential election might find itself with a nominee who represents as extreme a threat to reproductive rights as American women have seen since the court first heard Roe v. Wade. In the past we’ve never seen a presidential candidate opposing abortion even in cases of rape and incest, but a large number of the current Republican contenders oppose abortion even in these instances.
“With arguably the most anti-choice group of Republicans vying for the presidential nomination we’ve ever seen and a Congress that tries time and again to defund Planned Parenthood and undermine Roe v. Wade, now more than ever we need to elect more women to office who will not only fight back against these extreme efforts but who will prioritize expanding access to health care and policies that help women get ahead,” Stephanie Schriock, president of Emily’s List, a political action committee that aims to elect pro-choice women candidates to all levels of government, tells Yahoo Health.
Says Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, to Yahoo Health, “The stakes for women’s health in 2016 are higher than ever — with a woman’s fundamental right to abortion before the U.S. Supreme Court and at the forefront of the election. There has never been a year where Roe has been more clearly on the ballot. Never have we heard such extreme and dangerous rhetoric from our lawmakers. Across the country, women and families are becoming collateral damage of politicians whose clear agenda is to ban safe and legal abortion. Life for women before Roe is a stark reminder that the consequences for women are very real when politicians shut down clinics and put safe abortion out of reach. In Texas, researchers estimate that more than 100,000 women have attempted to induce an abortion on their own, without medical assistance. This cannot be what it means to be a woman living in 21st-century America. No woman should have to live in a world where safe abortion is out of reach.”