State Laws Hinder Access to Abortion Information, Limit Women's Options, Experts Say

October 22, 2012 — Although abortion is legal in the U.S., state laws are making it increasingly difficult for women to obtain abortions or even to get information about the procedure, the AP/Washington Post reports.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 41 states have enacted laws restricting abortion in the last two years, including a record high of 92 passed last year. So far this year, 30 laws have been enacted.

"The level and scope of activity on abortion and family planning is completely unparalleled to anything we have seen before," said Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher's state issues manager.

Renee Mestad, an ob-gyn who provides abortions in New York, said the trend is "distressing" because abortion-rights opponents are "getting much more creative [in] the way they're chipping away" at access to abortion.

For instance, 41 states ban abortion after a certain point in pregnancy, generally 20 weeks, based on the medically disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at that point of development. Further, 35 states require pre-abortion counseling, 26 mandate waiting periods after counseling and 13 states require that women be told about alleged risks of abortion.

Abortion laws are the most restrictive in the middle of the country, such as in South Dakota, where there is only one abortion clinic. A new state law, which has been challenged in court, requires a three-day waiting period and counseling at a crisis pregnancy center before a woman can obtain an abortion. In July, a federal appeals court upheld a provision in a separate, 2005 law that requires physicians to tell women that abortion increases the risk of suicide (AP/Washington Post, 10/20).

AP Interviews Women About Circumstances That Led to Abortion

The Associated Press recently spoke with four women about the circumstances surrounding their decisions to obtain abortions and their experiences obtaining the procedure (Tanner, AP/Chicago Daily Herald, 10/22). Nearly one million women in the U.S. obtain abortions each year, according to the AP/Miami Herald (AP/Miami Herald, 10/20).

Three of the women were using contraception at the time they became pregnant. The women, who sought abortions for various reasons, described their experiences visiting abortion clinics and the cost of the procedure. In one case, a woman visited a crisis pregnancy center that told her she was nine weeks pregnant, when she was actually 14 weeks pregnant.

The fourth woman wanted to have a child but learned the fetus had a fatal defect, which had afflicted two previous pregnancies that resulted in a stillbirth and an infant that lived for one hour. She had sought an abortion for several reasons, including concern about caring for her two existing children, but she required an emergency caesarean section that resulted in a stillbirth.

Bioethicist and gynecologist Lisa Harris said, "There's this false idea that certain types of women have abortions and different types of women have babies," adding, "They're really the same types of women at different points in their lives" (AP/Chicago Daily Herald, 10/22)