State Abortion Restrictions Have Little Impact on Demand for Procedure

March 5, 2012 — While state restrictions on access to abortion care, such as requiring an ultrasound or a waiting period, are "burdensome and demeaning," abortion-rights supporters say the obstacles "rarely dissuade women who want the procedure," the AP/Longview News-Journal reports.

"The reality is that if a woman has decided that's what [is] right for her, she'll do whatever it takes to get it done," Peter Brownlie, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri, said. Tracy Weitz, a sociologist at the University of California-San Francisco, said, "Overall, the ... laws have no deterrent effect. But in states where Medicaid doesn't pay for abortion -- and that gets piled on with the other regulations -- we do think it's having an effect on women's ability to access affordable services." She added, "They really disproportionately hurt people already economically on the edge."

Michael New, a political science professor at the University of Alabama, said that in states where abortion providers cannot receive Medicaid funds, abortion incidence has dropped by an estimated 8% or 9%. In comparison, the effect of laws with requirements such as waiting periods and state-mandated counseling is harder to quantify, according to New.

Texas' law requiring a woman to receive an ultrasound and wait 24 hours before obtaining abortion care might be a deterrent because of cost, rather than the law's actual requirements, since the law requires women to make two trips to the clinic and makes abortion care more expensive (AP/Longview News-Journal, 3/3).

Amy Hagstrom Miller, CEO of Whole Woman's Health, said, "What we have noticed primarily is absolute outrage that they have to come twice. Many of our clients are already mothers; they know what is on a sonogram. They don't see it and say, 'Oh my gosh, I'm pregnant' and change their minds" (Branch, Sentinel Source, 3/4).

The new law has also caused many abortion providers to increase the price of the procedure by $50 to $75, Curtis Boyd, a doctor at the Southwestern Women's Surgery Center, said.

Houston attorney Shailey Gupta-Brietzke said, "The price of the procedure has increased with some of the providers -- and there's the cost to women of taking more time off work." Gupta-Brietzke works with the Lilith Fund, which helps women who cannot afford abortion care (AP/Longview News-Journal, 3/3).

Abortion-Rights Supporters Arrested in Virginia

In related news, 31 protesters were arrested on Saturday at the Virginia Capitol in Richmond after refusing to leave the building's steps during a rally protesting state legislation restricting abortion rights, the Washington Post's "Virginia Politics" reports. The rally was attended by about 850 people and organized by the group Speak Loud with Silence.

Although the protesters had a permit to hold a demonstration in the area, they were not allowed on the steps and certain other locations in Capitol Square. According to Capitol Police Captain Raymond Goodloe, most of the protesters left the steps when asked, but those who refused to leave were arrested.

The arrested protesters were charged with either unlawful assembly or trespassing, both misdemeanors, Goodloe said.

Virginia has drawn national attention in recent weeks over various antiabortion-rights bills. A few measures were defeated, including legislation that would have defined fertilized eggs as people, a bill that would have banned abortion care after 20 weeks of gestation and a measure that would have denied state assistance for abortion services for low-income women if their fetuses had severe medical problems. However, a bill that would require a woman seeking abortion care to first have an ultrasound has been approved by the Legislature and now goes to Gov. Robert McDonnell (R) (Kumar, "Virginia Politics," Washington Post, 3/3).

Reducing Unintended Pregnancies a Better Approach, Kristof Writes

The Texas law is "part of a war over women's health being fought around the country -- and in much of the country, women are losing," New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof writes, noting the number of states that have enacted new restrictions on abortion care. He adds that the "pattern has been retrograde: humiliating obstacles to abortions, cuts in family-planning programs, and limits on comprehensive sex education in schools."

Kristof writes, "If Texas legislators wanted to reduce abortions, the obvious approach would be to reduce unwanted pregnancies." However, "Texas has some of the weakest sex-education programs in the nation, and last year it cut spending on family planning by 66%."

Kristof concludes, "The best formulation on this topic was Bill Clinton's, that abortion should be 'safe, legal and rare.' Achieving that isn't easy, and there is no silver bullet to reduce unwanted pregnancies. But family planning and comprehensive sex education are a surer path than demeaning vulnerable women with state-sanctioned abuse and humiliation" (Kristof, New York Times, 3/3).