Abortion Access Reverting to Pre-Roe 'Patchwork' in States, Advocates Warn

September 28, 2012 — A "rash" of state-level abortion restrictions in recent years has made accessing abortion incredibly difficult for many women, even as the procedure remains legal, women's health experts say, Bloomberg Businessweek reports. The laws have created geographical, financial and other obstacles that a form "patchwork of access" to abortion that mirrors barriers that existed before Roe v. Wade, they note.

"We are seeing the number of providers decrease and the number of restrictions increase," said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute. "Clinic regulations, waiting periods, ultrasounds -- you keep adding these things and it becomes really difficult" to obtain an abortion, she explained.

Last year, states passed 92 abortion restrictions, and they have passed an additional 39 in the first half of 2012, according to Guttmacher. The pace of abortion restrictions in state legislatures accelerated after victories by conservative candidates in the 2010 midterm elections.

Wendy Parmet, associate dean at Northeastern University School of Law, noted that court decisions after Roe have helped open the door to increased regulation in the states.

"We are moving back to the world we had before Roe," Parmet said, adding, "We are moving toward a world where some women have fairly ready access to abortion and other women have a really difficult time accessing abortion."

Regional Disparities

Regional disparities in abortion access have emerged in the South, Midwest and Mountain West, where women face more barriers than in the Northeast or on the West Coast, Parmet said. According to data from Guttmacher, 87% of U.S. counties had abortion providers in 2008, compared with 83% in 1973. Five states now have one abortion clinic, including Mississippi, which had 14 in 1981.

"Access basically depends entirely on where you live," said Julie Rikelman, litigation director for the Center for Reproductive Rights. "Even though it is supposed to be a constitutional right available to all Americans in the [U.S.], it is really a right only available to a minority of American women," Rikelman added (Crawford, Bloomberg BusinessWeek, 9/27).