Could this be the year the pro-choice movement goes on the offensive?
The volume of state-level, pro-abortion-rights legislation outstrips that of any year since the early 1990s, when states sought to codify access to the procedure, said Elizabeth Nash, states issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based reproductive health researcher. Some proposals seek to repeal restrictions fresh on the books, enacted during the past three years after Republicans took control of more legislatures and governorships. Others would ease access.
“Women’s legal right to access a safe abortion is being eliminated,” said state Representative Dan Frankel, a Democrat leading the effort in Pennsylvania. “We are sick and tired of losing ground.”
Lawmakers are pushing back after a record number of laws since 2010 forced dozens of clinics to close and made it harder for women to terminate pregnancies or prevent them in the first place. Backers see the movement as a winning election strategy for the Democratic Party as it presents itself as supportive of women.
Fifty-one provisions have been introduced in 14 states, compared with 32 in six states about this time last year, Nash’s data show.
Of course, many of these bills are simply trying to recoup the ground we’ve lost in the anti-choice barrage of the last few years. Remember: more abortion restrictions were enacted in the last 3 years than the entire previous decade. And more often than not, they don’t pass. But even in states where there’s little chance of enacting pro-choice legislation now, raising the issue and forcing anti-choice lawmakers to defend increasingly extreme restrictions is a good long-term strategy. As a state senator who tried to repeal Virginia’s ultrasound law explains, “The more people we help to understand why the law was wrong, the more I think voters, especially women voters, are going to question why we keep electing these people.”
Plus, every now and again, a truly pro-active pro-choice bill actually gets passed. Last year, California approved a bill allowing nurse practitioners to perform abortions instead of just doctors. And New Hampshire is poised to create a 25-foot buffer zone around the state’s abortion clinics.
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.