States Embracing More Aggressive Approach on Abortion Restrictions

April 12, 2013 — Although states enacted a record number of abortion restrictions in both 2011 and 2012, abortion-rights opponents this year are employing more aggressive tactics in conservative states where lawmakers are receptive to their ideas, according to abortion-rights advocates, the Washington Post reports.

In the past six weeks, four states -- Alabama, Arkansas, Kansas and North Dakota -- have approved some of the nation's most restrictive antiabortion-rights laws. Much of this year's legislation focuses on banning abortions early in pregnancy or imposing onerous regulations on abortion providers.

"[T]hese laws are much more extreme" compared with past years, according to Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU's Reproductive Freedom Project. "To make it increasingly impossible for women to gain access to safe abortion, they've jumped to their endgame," she said.

On Friday, Virginia could become the latest state to join the fray when its Board of Health votes on whether to require that abortion clinics meet the same building standards as new hospitals. The "onerous and unnecessary architectural requirements" could cause some of the state's 20 abortion providers to close, according to Cianti Stewart-Reid, executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia.

States Bucking Trends

Although attention to reproductive-rights issues largely worked in Democrats' favor in federal-level elections last fall, at the state level, Republicans maintain significant control. Republican lawmakers hold both the governorship and a legislative majority in 23 states, compared with 14 for Democrats, which has enabled conservatives to push through more abortion restrictions GOP-controlled states, the Post reports.

States are "either the reddest of red or the bluest of blue, so whether you're a Republican or a Democrat, you can advance your social agenda," said Glen Bolger, a GOP pollster and partner in Public Opinion Strategies.

The effort to increase abortion restrictions also contrasts with a leftward trend on other social issues, including same-sex marriage and marijuana legalization, according to the Post. For instance, while public opinion on same-sex marriage has changed rapidly in the past few years, polls show Americans' views on abortion rights largely have remained static since the 1990s (Eilperin, Washington Post, 4/11).