Do You Live in a State That's Hostile to Abortion? More Than Half of American Women Do
Within the past two years, Texans have seen closures of half the abortion clinics in their state. Depending on how upcoming court cases go, advocates worry that the state stands to lose half of what's left, dropping the number of clinics to 10 for a state that's home to more than 13 million women.
Texan women, especially those who are poor or live in rural areas, are in such dire straits that nonprofits like Fund Texas Choice have been created to pay the bus fare or expenses of an overnight stay so these women can travel the distance for an abortion.
The story of limited options for women dealing with unwanted pregnancies isn't limited to the Lone Star State. In the last four years, states have enacted a total of 231 abortion restrictions, the largest number enacted in any four-year period since the landmark case of Roe v. Wade, said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that studies reproductive rights.
"It’s significant that we are seeing so many restrictions becoming law across the country, this isn't just Texas,” said Nash.
In fact, more than half of all American women now live in states that are either “hostile” or “extremely hostile” to abortion rights, according to a report released Monday from the Guttmacher Institute.
If the Guttmacher deems a state “hostile,” it means there are four or more laws on the books that restrict women’s access to abortion. These restrictions can include banning private insurance companies from covering the procedure, or restricting minors’ access to it without parental permission. Many states also enforce regulations on where abortions may be performed, requiring a surgical-like environment that goes “beyond what is necessary to ensure patients’ safety.”
In 2000, only 31 percent of women in the country lived in states that made it difficult for women to receive abortions. By 2014, that number reached 57 percent, disproportionately affecting women in the middle of the country.
“The entire South is now considered hostile to abortion rights, and much of the South, along with much of the Midwest, is extremely hostile to abortion rights,” the report states.
In addition to state laws, socioeconomic status can pose challenges in accessing abortions, said Nash. In 2008, the average American woman traveled 30 miles to obtain abortion services, according to a study published in the Journal of Women’s Health. Women living in rural areas are often forced to travel even farther, and poor women who are disproportionately affected by unintended pregnancies may face some of the biggest challenges, according to data from Guttmacher.
"When it comes to abortion, well-off women are able to access services and can navigate the legal barriers, but the women who are really impacted by these restrictions are poor women, women of color and young women,” said Nash.
There is some good news though: In 2014, there were only 26 abortion restrictions enacted across the country in comparison to the 70 that passed into law the year before, the report states. Abortion advocates even clocked a few wins with four states adopting laws to promote abortion rights and access, and additional states introducing bills to do so.
"Even by introducing proactive legislation it may have had a dampening effect on abortion opponents,” Nash said.
This could signal a changing tide, but researchers believe the more likely explanation is purely logistical. Last year there were multiple state legislatures not in session, and those that were typically had shorter sessions because it was an election year. Also, in the years leading up to 2014 abortion had center political stage, but last year it was outshined by topics like minimum wage, said Nash.
"There’s only so much time the state legislature can devote to any one issue," she said.
Things aren’t looking too promising for 2015 either. Midterm elections ushered in 30 states where Republicans will now control both legislative chambers, and in 23 of these states the governor will be Republican as well, the report states. All 50 states will be in session in 2015 as well, said Nash, and Congress is looking to revisit the “20-week ban,” which would ban abortions after 20 weeks.
So, Nash said, the future of women’s reproductive rights is up to voters.
"Ultimately state legislators pay attention to their constituents, so it's key for those who support abortion rights to make their views known to their legislators,” she said. “It really makes a difference."