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Posted on March 31, 2016

The abortion laws you don’t hear about

It’s no secret that states have railed against abortion access in the years since 1973, when Roe v. Wade legalized the procedure in America. Nearly 900 bills restricting abortions have passed in the past 20 years alone, according to the nation’s oldest abortion rights group.

Last year, states enacted dozens of new laws, including one in Texas that forced clinic closures across the state. A case challenging that law is now in the hands of the U.S. Supreme Court.
What’s less known, though, is a similar state-by-state effort by abortion rights advocates to strengthen access to abortion services and birth control.
Partly that’s a result of the numbers: Judged strictly by the volume of bills introduced in state legislatures, the abortion rights movement simply hasn’t kept pace with efforts to chip away at Roe v. Wade.
In this current legislative session, nearly 250 anti-abortion measures are in the mix in more than three dozen states — twice the number of pending abortion rights bills, according to the Public Leadership Institute, a nonprofit that supports abortion rights.
Counting only those reproductive rights bills that deal directly with abortion — as opposed to contraception, for example — there are about four times as many anti-abortion measures.
Some would ban abortions after the first trimester, while others seek to get rid of them altogether. One measure would remove the buffer zones between protesters and patients outside clinics. There are bills to prohibit charitable donations to abortion providers, and others that require the distribution of medically disputed information.
In 2015 alone, 41 anti-abortion measures were enacted in 22 states, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Seven of those measures passed in a single state: Arkansas.

A new playbook

Part of what has driven the proliferation of anti-abortion legislation is a playbook put out byAmericans United for Life. “Defending Life,” first published in 2006, includes model legislation that state lawmakers cut, paste and use.
This tactic has resulted in legislation requiring delays and state-mandated counseling. Bans on funding and referrals. Regulations that prompt clinic closures — and result in “abortion deserts” in places such as Texas.
To answer this push, the Public Leadership Instituterecently released its own compilation of prototype bills: “A Playbook for Abortion Rights,” a guide for policymakers on state and local levels.
Aimee Arrambide is a co-editor of this resource. A lawyer by training, the Austin, Texas- based mother of two is a reproductive rights policy specialist and a self-professed policy wonk.
She shares this playbook with pride; it was a labor of love that she and her colleagues saw as long overdue.
“They’re out-introducing our side, which is why we created the playbook,” she says. “We wanted to make it easier for legislators to introduce these bills.”
These bills include measures to protect and expand access to abortions, to provide full access to birth control and to guarantee medically accurate health care information — thereby, for example, barring crisis pregnancy centers, many of which are funded by states, from deceiving women.
The centers, called CPCs, have been known to mislead women into believing they offer abortion services and unbiased counseling, when in fact they are often Christian ministries on a mission to prevent abortions, abortion rights activists say. There are more than 4,000 CPCs in the United States, according to NARAL. They outnumber abortion clinics by thousands.
Especially close to Arrambide’s heart are bills to stop anti-abortion harassment. Her late father was an abortion provider in South Texas, and she keeps his old Kevlar vest on her shelf to remind her why she does this work.
Legislation such as the Prevent Anti-Abortion Terrorism Act would, among other things, ensure a safe distance between protesters and those entering clinics, guarantee the confidentiality of home addresses of abortion providers and clinic employees and treat crimes against clinics, workers and patients as hate crimes.
Included with each piece of model legislation are background summaries, including statistics and research findings, to make the process of introducing and advocating for these bills as simple as possible.
So far, she says, hundreds of legislators have received the playbook, and their staffers are asking for more. For those with limited time to strategize and do their own research, Arrambide hopes this tool will fill a void, provide a balance when it comes to the flood of bills being introduced across the country and help change the national conversation.
Michigan state Sen. Rebekah Warren, a Democrat, helped research, fact-check and compile legislation for the new publication. Having once run the Michigan affiliate for NARAL for seven years, Warren found being a part of this endeavor a natural progression.
She had watched while Michigan became an incubator for anti-abortion efforts in the mid-’90s as Republicans with deep pockets funded pet policies such as procedure bans and mandatory waiting periods. When she was first elected to the state House of Representatives in 2006, she was a member of the majority and able to beat back some of what had happened. But by 2010, when the tide shifted, she became part of the minority in the state Senate.
She talks about how Michigan lawmakers barred insurance companies from covering abortion care without requiring an additional rider — meaning that women would have to buy extra insurance. She explains how only eight of Michigan’s 42 insurance providers offer such a policy, and no provider on the Michigan health insurance exchange does.
She recalls the testimonies of women who paid the price for not having abortion insurance. They’d desperately wanted babies and never imagined having abortions. But because of serious health complications, including dangerous ectopic pregnancies, they had to terminate their pregnancies. Without insurance coverage, they were slapped with hospital-stay bills exceeding $10,000.
“Right now our bodies and our health have become a political football” tossed around by mostly male politicians, Warren says. “We have to stand up and say we’re not going to do this anymore.”
Asked about abortion activists’ push for legislation, abortion foes were unmoved. Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for Americans United for Life, says the abortion industry tries to duck its responsibility to protect women “by hiding behind their new favorite buzzword — ‘access.’ “