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43 Years After Roe, Abortion Access Remains Difficult

January 22, 2016 — Given a recent increase in the number of state and federal abortion restrictions in the United States, women today might face more obstacles to access abortion care than they did immediately after the Roe v. Wade ruling, which turns 43 years old this month, Vocativ reports.

Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, noted that while there was backlash immediately following the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, with states enacting 81 restrictions on abortion that year alone, there were comparatively few restrictions proposed and enacted in the years following. "There were many years ... when abortion restrictions were not on the forefront in state legislatures," she said. According to the Guttmacher Institute, states proposed an average of 14 new abortion restrictions each year between 1983 and 2010.

However, Nash noted that the number of abortion restrictions enacted over the last five years is "unprecedented." After conservative lawmakers took control of several state legislatures following the 2010 midterm elections, they passed 92 restrictions, "breaking the previous 1973 record," Vocativ reports. Between 2010 and 2015, 288 abortion restrictions were enacted.

According to Nash, restrictions to abortion care have become more geographically determined since the Roe v. Wade ruling. "Where you live dictates your access to services, versus after Roe when the laws were a little more uniform," she said, adding, "There are states that have very little in the way of restrictions and states that have 10 or more [restrictions]."

Nash noted that as a result, women today might have more difficulty accessing abortion care than they did immediately after Roe v. Wade. "In terms of the legal landscape, accessing abortion was easier in the 1970s compared to now, in many places," she said. According to Vocativ, abortion access is particularly limited in Southern states -- such as Alabama, Mississippi and Texas -- where antiabortion-rights regulations have forced most clinics to close.

Separately, Marcela Howell, of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda, said disparities in women's abortion access "have only gotten worse" since the enactment of the Hyde Amendment, which has restricted the use of federal funds for abortion care since 1976. "While we will join to commemorate Roe this month, we cannot pretend that the right to abortion is enjoyed equally by all women," she said, adding, "A woman's ability to end her pregnancy too often depends on where she lives, her age and how much money is in her pocket."

Planned Parenthood's Dana Singiser also pointed to federal attacks on women's reproductive health, noting, "We saw anti-abortion politicians try to hold up an anti-human trafficking bill, the Attorney General's nomination and eventhreaten to shut down our government over access to basic reproductive [health care]," she said, adding, "Do we really want to be a country in which you have access to safe, legal abortion only if you're lucky enough to live in the right city or state?"

Separately, Nash noted that the recent uptick in abortion legislation could set up new constitutional precedents on abortion access. She said, "[W]ith any law, there is always a possibility that it could be repealed, that it could be amended, that there could be a court that would knock it down." For example, Nash discussed the Supreme Court's upcoming ruling on Texas' omnibus antiabortion-rights law (HB 2) in Whole Woman's Health v. Cole, noting, "Everybody is looking to the Texas case ... and how that will play into how states restrict or regulate abortion in the future."

However, regardless of the outcome in Whole Woman's Health, "We're in the midst of a wave of abortion restrictions," Nash concluded, and "[w]e're not seeing that wave abate. We're expecting to see more" (Clark-Flory, Vocativ, 1/18).