Abortion-Rights Supporters Go on Offensive at State Level

February 25, 2014 — State legislators this year have introduced more bills supporting abortion access than any time since the early 1990s, according to Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, Bloomberg reports.

The legislation represents a shift for abortion-rights supporters, who mostly have been on the defensive against a record number of antiabortion-rights laws passed since 2010.

New Abortion-Rights Protections

At least seven states have proposed laws that seek to repeal or soften antiabortion-rights laws, Bloomberg reports. Four states are proposing legislation that addresses abortion rights in combination with other women's health measures, such as a bill in Pennsylvania that would implement "buffer zones" around reproductive health clinics and strengthen protections for pregnant women, breastfeeding women and women who experience domestic violence.

The Washington House has approved legislation (HB 2148) that would require insurers that cover maternity care to also cover abortion services, and Oregon is considering a bill that would require medical providers to dispense medically accurate information. Meanwhile, Vermont is likely to pass a bill -- already approved in the state Senate -- that would eliminate unenforced and outdated state laws criminalizing abortion. Last year, California voted to expand abortion access by allowing nurse practitioners to offer abortion services.

Offensive Strategy

Abortion-rights supporters see the shift to offensive tactics as a winning election strategy this year as the Democratic Party aims to portray itself as supportive of women's rights.

The potential for success is somewhat limited by Republicans, who maintain control of many state legislatures, but abortion-rights supporters hope to at least demonstrate that "they know how to fight back," Bloomberg reports.

Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights, called the shift in strategy a "tipping point," adding, "I don't think anyone thinks that this is going to get better overnight or in one legislative session, but people are playing the long game, which is unfortunately what our opponents have been doing for a long time."

Pennsylvania Rep. Dan Frankel (D), said, "We can't just be reactive. We have to have an agenda to counteract the conversation and the momentum [that abortion-rights opponents have] had on these issues" (Deprez, Bloomberg, 2/24).