March 13, 2015 — State lawmakers last year introduced the most measures to expand abortion rights since 1990, Vox reports.
According to Vox, the shift was driven by increased voter engagement in abortion-rights issues and state legislators' concerns that the Supreme Court might hear a case that would restrict abortion rights.
Specifically, state lawmakers introduced 95 bills or other provisions to expand abortion rights in 2014. According to the Guttmacher Institute, four such measures were signed into law last year, also the most since 1990 (Thielking, Vox, 3/12).
Bills Signed Into Law
In March 2014, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin (D) signed into law a bill (S 317) repealing a state statute criminalizing abortion that courts invalidated many years ago. Although the old law was invalidated by a Vermont Supreme Court decision in 1972 and the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision in 1973, it remained a state statute (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/26/14).
Meanwhile, Utah Gov. Gary Herbert (R) signed into law a measure waiving the state's mandatory pre-abortion counseling and ultrasound requirements when a woman's health or life is in danger or the fetus has severe anomalies (Women's Health Policy Report, 4/10/14).
In addition, New Hampshire Gov. Maggie Hassan (D) in June 2014 signed into law a bill (SB 319) that imposed a 25-foot "buffer zone" around abortion clinics in the state (Women's Health Policy Report, 6/11/14). However, the state attorney general's office said it would not enforce the measure for now amid a federal lawsuit challenging whether the law is constitutional (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/12).
Further, then-Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick (D) in July 2014 signed a bill (S 2281) into law to improve security surrounding the state's abortion clinics. Lawmakers developed the legislation in response to a Supreme Court ruling that struck down the state's buffer zone law, which had barred protests within 35 feet of clinic entrances (Women's Health Policy Report, 7/31/14).
Increasing Voter Engagement
According to Vox, the expanded efforts by state lawmakers to put forward legislation to protect abortion rights comes as more U.S. residents are becoming politically engaged in those issues.
National Women's Law Center Media Director Melanie Boyer said voters are increasingly contacting their elected officials and urging them to support abortion rights.
"We have seen social media really reach audiences that have been so far unengaged in these types of issues," with young people and health care providers, in particular, becoming more outspoken about abortion rights and the importance of politicians not interfering with medical decisions, she said.
PerryUndem pollster Tresa Undem said that part of voters' increasing interest stems from backlash against the many antiabortion-rights bills passed by states in recent years (Vox, 3/12). States passed 231 antiabortion-rights laws from 2011 to 2014, during which time the number of states deemed "extremely hostile" to abortion rights increased more than threefold, according to a Guttmacher report (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/6).
Undem said, "When [voters] see the actual facts of the laws that have been passed, they don't just disagree with it -- they are enraged. Incensed. I've never seen anything like it when people learn what's going on."
Further, state legislators are also putting forth more abortion-rights bills amid concerns that there could be a Supreme Court case that could test precedents protecting abortion rights, Vox reports.
For example, Vermont Sen. Tim Ashe (D), who introduced the bill that took the state's statute criminalizing abortion off the books, said that state lawmakers "were increasingly sensing that really at any time the Supreme Court could dramatically alter the landscape of Roe [v. Wade]" (Vox, 3/12).
Conflicting federal court rulings on state abortion restrictions suggest that the Supreme Court might take up a case to settle whether the laws impose an "undue burden" on women seeking the procedure. The court has not yet indicated whether it plans to hear such a case (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/8).