Increased Polarization Among States Leaves Little Middle Ground in Abortion Debate, Advocates Say

April 1, 2013 — Advocates on both sides of the abortion-rights debate say that states are rapidly becoming more polarized on the issue as they enact an increasing number of laws governing the procedure, the Wall Street Journal reports.

"We are seeing an incredible acceleration in the speed and in the breadth of the restrictions on abortion that are passing," said Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

Legislative tracking by the Guttmacher Institute suggests that the middle ground on the issue has been "shrinking" over the last decade, with fewer states maintaining mixed policies. The Journal reports that states' polarized approach is "at odds with overall American public opinion about abortion," which is more nuanced, according to polling.

In 2011 and 2012, state legislatures advanced a record number of antiabortion bills. In the first months of this year, Arkansas passed a law (SB 134) prohibiting most abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy, which at the time was the most restrictive abortion ban in the country. However, the state was "quickly surpassed by North Dakota," which recently enacted a measure (HB 1456) prohibiting most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy.

By contrast, a tiny fraction of states are working to expand or affirm abortion rights. Abortion-rights advocates also see provisions in the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148) as a new path for protecting abortion rights, according to the Journal.

For example, NARAL Pro-Choice Washington -- which has advocated for a state bill (HB 1044) that would require health plans in its insurance exchange to include abortion coverage -- is highlighting an ACA provision that says the federal health care law cannot preempt state statutes that bar or require abortion coverage. Separately, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) is urging lawmakers to update state abortion laws to ensure women can access the procedure later in pregnancy (Radnofsky, Wall Street Journal, 3/31).