January 7, 2014 — Facing legal challenges to sweeping antiabortion-rights laws, conservative state lawmakers are shifting focus to incremental measures that regulate clinics, physicians and abortion methods, Politico reports.
According to Politico, abortion-rights opponents believe the incremental legislation will be "nearly as effective in less time" than broader measures and pre-viability abortion bans passed last year, some of which have been blocked by courts. Comparatively, the incremental restrictions are more likely to pass judicial muster, Politico reports.
Gretchen Borchelt, director of state reproductive health policy at the National Women's Law Center, said, "I think the public understands the abortion bans ... But they don't understand how harmful things like regulation of clinics and restriction on medication abortion are to provider practice and to women's access to abortion."
States are trying several different approaches in 2014, Politico reports. For example, proposed Colorado legislation would consider an embryo or fetus a separate and legal person under the state's constitution in acts of violence against a pregnant woman. North Dakota's November ballot will include a proposal that would endow embryos with legal rights from the moment of conception.
However, for the most part, states will try to advance smaller regulations, in many cases citing concerns about clinic safety after the Kermit Gosnell case, Politico reports. A newly released report from the Guttmacher Institute found that almost two dozen states in 2013 passed 70 abortion restrictions, the second-highest annual total ever.
According to Politico, Texas will be a "key test case" for many of these restrictions in 2014 as the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals determines the constitutionality of medication abortion restrictions and a requirement that abortion providers have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. The ruling could have repercussions for admitting privileges requirements that were enacted -- and subsequently blocked -- in Alabama, Mississippi, North Dakota and Wisconsin, as well as other regulations in Alabama, Indiana, North Carolina and Virginia, Politico reports.
Americans United for Life published a new enforcement module to its annual package of model legislation after the Gosnell trial. AUL President and CEO Charmaine Yoest said the module addresses how communities can "take action if the political environment has allowed a house of horrors to go unregulated" or existing clinic regulations to not be enforced.
Meanwhile, abortion ban legislation this year is expected to focus on outlawing the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, rather than any earlier gestations. Although courts have blocked 20-week bans in three states -- Arizona, Georgia and Idaho -- Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser said that such bans are "the focus and the goal," especially in Florida, South Carolina, Pennsylvania and Wisconsin.
On the other side of the debate, Texas Sen. Wendy Davis' (D) filibuster of an antiabortion-rights bill is encouraging some states to pass legislation expanding and protecting abortion access, according to abortion-rights supporters.
For example, California passed two measures expanding abortion access in 2013, including a law that allows non-physician medical professionals to administer first-trimester aspiration abortions.
Meanwhile, Pennsylvania lawmakers have introduced a package of bills that protect women's abortion access, including a measure that would create a buffer zone around women's health clinics to protect patients from protesters (Villacorta, Politico, 1/6).