States Passed More Abortion Restrictions in 2011 Than in Decades

January 4, 2012 — In 2011, state-level legislation to limit abortion rights did more to reshape access to the procedure "than any other year in three decades," Sarah Kliff writes in the Washington Post's "Wonkblog."

Five states enacted bans on abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, seven states now require abortion providers to perform or offer an ultrasound prior to the procedure and eight states now bar private health insurers from covering abortion services, Kliff notes. She cites data from the Guttmacher Institute showing that states in 2011 passed 83 laws restricting access to abortion services, nearly four times the amount passed in 2010.

Much of the shift can be traced to Republican victories in the 2010 elections, which raised from 10 to 15 the number of states in which both the governor and legislative majority oppose abortion rights. Kliff writes that the most meaningful battles over abortion access typically are fought at the state level. "[T]hat means that a rise in the number of antiabortion governors and legislators has an enormous impact on the abortion rights landscape, paving the way for laws that could shape access for years to come," she writes.

According to Kliff, the restrictions on private abortion coverage could have some of the most significant effects on access to the procedure. The federal health reform debate cast a spotlight on the issue, which was seldom debated prior to that point. The antiabortion-rights group Americans United for Life wrote draft legislation for states on how to limit insurance coverage of abortion services.

Kliff notes that over the past two years, the number of states that prohibit private insurance plans from covering abortion has increased from five to eight. Five states also have passed legislation prohibiting private health plans from offering such coverage on the insurance exchanges, which will launch in 2014 as part of the federal health reform law (PL 111-148) (Kliff, Washington Post, 12/29).