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Abortion Restrictions Vary by ZIP Code, 'Create One Barrier After Another for Women,' Op-Ed States

May 21, 2015 — "[I]f you're a woman counting on a constitutional right to an abortion, your access to one may increasingly depend on your county or zip code, and whether you can drive to the only open clinic in your state or to a nearby state where abortion care is still widely accessible," columnist Rebecca Ruiz writes in a Mashable opinion piece.

For example, Ruiz notes that while the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision "made ... clear" that "[t]he right to an abortion is a right protected by the United States constitution," the "right may as well not exist" for women in Tennessee. Tennessee Gov. Bill Haslam (R) recently signed two measures -- one (SB 1222) imposing a 48-hour mandatory delay before abortions, and another (SB 1280) imposing what opponents note are "medically unnecessary" clinic building regulations, she writes.

"Such laws make abortion nearly or completely impossible to obtain, and they don't just affect Tennessee women," Ruiz writes, citing data from the Guttmacher Institute that found state lawmakers have introduced more than 300 abortion restrictions in the first three months of 2015. Moreover, according to Guttmacher, the percentage of women living in states "considered hostile to abortion rights" has increased from 31% in 2010 to 57% in 2014, she writes.

Ruiz also cites Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the Center for Reproductive Rights, who noted that such disparate access to abortion "'is not the promise of our constitution. Everyone should have equal constitutional rights,'" but the "'way these state laws have been working, (access) really depends on where you live.'"

For example, Ruiz writes that mandatory delay laws vary by state, with differing delay periods and required counseling provisions. While some states -- such as Alaska, California and Colorado -- do not prevent women "from immediately seeking an abortion," others require a 72-hour delay. Meanwhile, "[m]ore than two dozen states have forbidden state-regulated health insurance plans, available through the Affordable Care Act (PL 111-148), to cover abortion" and more than 20 states impose admitting privilege requirements or stringent clinic building requirements, Ruiz notes.

She writes, "Taken together, these restrictions create one barrier after another for women who seek a constitutionally-protected medical procedure."

Ruiz notes that as lawsuits over these restrictions move through the courts, often with "different outcomes depending on geography, it has become clear that only the Supreme Court can truly address the growing disparities in access to abortion." The high court will likely weigh whether such restrictions constitute an "undue burden" on women's access to abortion, but Ruiz notes that the soonest the court could rule on such a case is 2016. "Until then, women across the country will find themselves subject to wildly different abortion laws," with women who are low-income or living in the South or Midwest being "most dramatically affected," Ruiz writes (Ruiz, Mashable, 5/20).