States Continue To Limit Abortion Access, Despite Public Support for Abortion Rights

October 14, 2014 — Although a majority of U.S. residents still support abortion rights, states across the country over the past four years have succeeded in enacting legislation that could drastically diminish abortion access for millions of women if allowed to stand, the Los Angeles Times reports.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, states since 2011 have passed approximately 230 abortion restrictions. For example, several states require women to obtain ultrasounds before they can receive an abortion, while others limit insurance coverage for abortion services or restrict state funding for abortion providers. Meanwhile, a sweeping antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) in Texas has forced almost two-thirds of the state's abortion clinics to close; similar efforts in Louisiana are threatening abortion access there.

At the same time, the Pew Research Center for People and the Press reports strong support for abortion rights throughout the U.S. The center notes that last year, 63% of U.S. residents said they did not want the Supreme Court to overturn its decision on Roe v. Wade.

Still, the poll showed a geographical gap in abortion stances. For example, 75% of New England residents said they think abortion should be legal in most or all cases, an increase of 5% from 20 years ago. At the same time, 40% of residents in the South Central region of the U.S. said abortion should be legal in most or all cases, down 5% over the same time period (Semuels/La Ganga, Los Angeles Times, 10/11).

CRR President Comments on 'Shrinking' Abortion Access

In related news, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup comments on the country's "shrinking" abortion access in a Washington Post opinion piece.

Northup writes that the number of abortion restrictions states have enacted since 2011 is more "than were enacted in the previous decade." She notes that although the laws were "[p]assed under the pretense of regulating safety standards, the true purpose of these laws is to hollow out Roe v. Wade's recognition of women's constitutional right to decide for themselves whether to end a pregnancy, as well as the legal protections afforded by that historic ruling."

Northup questions whether courts will let the restrictions stand and highlights a recent case in which the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals "lift[ed] an injunction blocking the most extreme provisions of Texas's sweeping anti-abortion law" that resulted in "not a single abortion clinic remain[ing] open in the state west or south of San Antonio." She writes, "Not since before Roe v. Wade has a law or court decision resulted in the denial of abortion care on such a sweeping scale."

Meanwhile, other states such as "Oklahoma, Alabama, Louisiana and Wisconsin have passed similarly underhanded laws designed to shutter most, if not all, clinics by requiring any physician who provides an abortion to obtain admitting privileges at a local hospital." She concludes, "The resulting sharp disparities in women's ability to obtain abortion care are becoming troublingly reminiscent of the time before Roe, when access depended entirely on where a woman lived or her ability to travel to one of the few states where abortion was safe and legal" (Northup, Washington Post, 10/10).