An analysis of abortion legislation in the last decade by the Guttmacher Institute is showing an unsettling trend.
Over the last decade, the abortion policy landscape at the state level has shifted dramatically. Although a core of states in the Northeast and on the West Coast remained consistently supportive of abortion rights between 2000 and 2011, a substantial number of other states shifted from having only a moderate number of abortion restrictions to becoming overtly hostile. The implications of this shift are enormous. In 2000, the country was almost evenly divided, with nearly a third of American women of reproductive age living in states solidly hostile to abortion rights, slightly more than a third in states supportive of abortion rights and close to a third in middle-ground states. By 2011, however, more than half of women of reproductive age lived in hostile states. This growth came largely at the expense of the states in the middle, and the women who live in them; in 2011, only one in 10 American women of reproductive age lived in a middle-ground state.
States were categorized as being ‘supportive’ (having 1 or less provisions restricting legal abortions), ‘middle ground’ (2 or 3 abortion restrictions) and ‘hostile’ (4 or more restrictions). If a picture is worth a 1000 words, then here’s what a 1000 words of anti-abortion legislation looks like over a 10 year period.
In 2000, only 13 states were deemed hostile to abortion rights. By 2011, that number had grown to 26. In that same period, the number of middle-ground states shrank from 19 to 9 with 12 of them moving on to become hostile states.
And it’s only getting worse. In 2011 alone, ninety-two laws were passed restricting women’s access to abortion.
Over the course of 2011, legislators in all 50 states introduced more than 1,100 provisions related to reproductive health and rights. At the end of it all, states had adopted 135 new reproductive health provisions—a dramatic increase from the 89 enacted in 2010 and the 77 enacted in 2009.1 Fully 92 of the enacted provisions seek to restrict abortion, shattering the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005 (see chart). A striking 68% of the reproductive health provisions from 2011 are abortion restrictions, compared with only 26% the year before.
The end result of a decade of restricting women’s reproductive rights is that 55 percent of all American women of reproductive age now live in states with legislation hostile to abortion. That number was 31 percent in 2000.
If anyone has any doubt that the right-wing’s war on women is anything but real, let them think again. Rick Santorum and Rush Limbaugh might never become president but there are thousands of Santorums and Limbaughs at the state level enacting legislation that seeks to restrict access to abortion by various means. These range from state-mandated pre-abortion counseling and non-medical ultrasounds to restrictions on abortion coverage in private health insurance policies.
How important is this year’s election to women’s rights? Anything but an Obama victory ensures that states would get the backing of the White House in extending their war on women.