For Better or Worse: American Abortion Laws Changed in These Ways in 2013

The fight over women's access to the procedure is being waged all over the country.

wendy davis abortion

Texas state Sen. Wendy Davis votes against a motion to table an amendment to Senate Bill 1 as the state Senate meets to consider legislation restricting abortion rights in Austin, Texas, on July 12, 2013. (Photo: Mike Stone/Reuters)

A former journalist for the Associated Press and Miami Herald, she reported from Latin America for Time, Businessweek, and Financial Times.

2013 saw a continuing erosion of access to abortion in a handful of states as conservative legislators pushed through some of the most stringent antiabortion laws in the nation’s four decades of legalized abortion.

“We’re in the midst of a wave of attacks on abortion rights on the state level,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that advocates for abortion rights. “This has reshaped the landscape in many states.” 

Over the past three years, 203 restrictions on abortion have been enacted, with 68 in 2013 alone. This year, abortion opponents have focused efforts particularly on tightening regulations on clinic operations, banning abortions after 20 weeks post-conception, and a variety of steps designed to change women’s minds about getting an abortion.

The outlook for abortion rights advocates is not all bleak. Proponents were heartened by moves in two states: California, where legislators expanded abortion access, and New Mexico, where voters defeated a 20-week abortion ban.

Still, the conservative strategy of chipping away at abortion rights at the state level is likely to continue in 2014.

“There just hasn’t been that much movement in the ideological makeup of state legislatures,” Nash noted. “It’s the same cast of characters.”

The Worst

Texas: One of the nation’s most restrictive abortion laws was adopted. It bars nearly all abortions 20 weeks post-conception, mandates clinics to meet the expensive standards of ambulatory surgery centers, requires doctors performing abortions to have formal admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic, and obligates doctors to use a particular drug protocol in medication-induced abortions. The law has caused nearly a third of Texas clinics to close. Opponents have appealed the provisions affecting doctors.

North Dakota: The state adopted the nation’s toughest abortion law yet, prohibiting abortion when a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks, as well as after 20 weeks, and on the basis of a genetic defect, such as Down syndrome. It also requires doctors who perform abortions to have hospital admitting privileges. The state has one abortion provider. Opponents believe they have a good chance of overturning the six-week ban.

Arkansas: The state outlawed abortion after 12 weeks of pregnancy, a measure that has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge while legal challenges are under way. However, the state earlier in the year adopted a 20-week ban, which remains intact.

Kansas: Under a new law, an abortion provider's website home page must provide a link to a state Department of Health and Environment site on abortion and fetal development and contain a statement that the state's information is "objective" and "scientifically accurate." The law also requires doctors to provide patients with information about a fetus’ ability to feel pain, prohibits gender-selection abortion, blocks tax breaks for providers, and prohibits providers from furnishing instructors or materials for sex education classes in public schools. The law is being challenged.

Ohio: Under a new law, clinics must have an agreement with a local hospital to send patients there in an emergency, but public hospitals are barred from entering into those agreements, and a state political appointee must approve those agreements. The law also requires doctors to search for a fetal heartbeat and tell women if they find one and forces women to undergo an ultrasound of the fetus. Additionally, providers must inform women how fetuses develop and give them information on adoption and other family planning options. The law also diverts federal welfare money to “crisis pregnancy centers”; increases financing for rape-crisis centers if they do not provide abortion referrals; and tightens parental consent requirements for minors. To avoid passing along money to Planned Parenthood, the state ended competitive bids for federal family planning grants, instead giving priority to public agencies.

North Carolina: A new law requires abortion clinics to meet standards of outpatient surgical centers, and it prohibits abortions for gender selection and abortion coverage under any insurance plan offered under the federal Affordable Care Act or by cities and counties. Opponents say most of the state’s clinics cannot afford the $1 million it would cost to meet the higher standards and will have to close.

Indiana: The state adopted a law requiring clinics that dispense abortion-inducing medication to meet standards for outpatient surgical centers, even if they do not perform surgical abortions. A federal judge has temporarily blocked the law while a lawsuit proceeds.

The Good News

California: The Golden State stands out as one state that expanded abortion access. Physician assistants, nurse practitioners, and certified nurse midwives who undergo training are now allowed to perform first-trimester abortions.

New Mexico: Albuquerque voters defeated a ballot measure that sought to ban abortions after 20 weeks. The city referendum, the first attempt in the nation to restrict abortions on a municipal basis, only gained 45 percent voter approval.

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