High Number of State Abortion Restrictions Marked by Increased Focus on 'Fetal Pain' Bills

July 10, 2012 — The number of state-level abortion restrictions is approaching record-setting levels again this year, a fact that some abortion-rights opponents attribute to their increased focus on so-called "fetal pain" legislation, Stateline/Kaiser Health News reports.

Thirteen states this year have passed some type of legislation restricting abortion: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, Maryland, Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin. According to Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, 40 abortion restrictions have become law this year.

The total number of state abortion restrictions in 2012 is not expected surpass the number enacted last year, when there were 92 provisions passed in 24 states. However, the high number of bills is notable during an election year, when legislative sessions typically are shorter and some legislatures do not convene at all.

"It is remarkable that we are seeing this many abortion restrictions becoming law," Nash said, adding, "States aren't banning abortion, but what they're doing is piling restrictions so a woman or provider will say, 'You know what? I can't do this anymore.'" She noted that abortion opponents are "trying to eliminate abortion in their state without going through the court process and overturning Roe."

Focus on Fetal Pain Legislation

Although the increase in part can be tied to the 2010 election, when conservatives gained majorities in many state governments, Mary Spaulding Balch -- director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee -- credits some of the victories to abortion-rights opponents' success in promoting fetal pain legislation. The group's "Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act" has been used as a model in many states to ban abortion later in pregnancy, when supporters claim that a fetus can start to feel pain.

Douglas Laube, chair of the board of Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, called the nationwide fetal pain legislation movement "a well-coordinated effort" but noted that the claim that fetuses can feel pain around 20 weeks of gestation "has no basis in any kind of accepted scientific fact."

In 2010, Nebraska became the first state to pass legislation with the fetal pain language. Last year, Republican-controlled legislatures in Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma also passed similar bills, and this year, lawmakers in Arizona, Georgia and Louisiana enacted laws.

Arizona Rep. Kimberly Yee (R) said she modeled her state's ban after laws in other states but "customized" the language to fit Arizona statutes. In addition to making it a crime for a physician to perform an abortion more than 20 weeks after the woman's last menstrual cycle, except to save her life, the law restricts the conditions under which doctors can provide medication abortion drugs, requires parental consent for minors, mandates that the state create a website depicting fetal development, and orders abortion clinics to post signs stating that it is illegal to coerce a woman into having an abortion (Wiltz, Stateline/Kaiser Health News, 7/9).