Abortion
May 19, 2015
Will recent state abortion laws withstand court challenges?

With Republicans having gained control of a growing number of legislatures, states have enacted 261 provisions since the beginning of 2011 that supporters of abortion rights say restrict a woman’s access to abortion, compared with 189 passed from 2001 through 2010. State laws typically ban abortion at a specific point in pregnancy, limit access to abortion or heavily regulate abortion providers and clinics. Many states, particularly those in the Midwest and South, do all three. So far this year, legislatures have enacted 30 provisions that opponents say restrict abortions, including in Kansas and Oklahoma, which in April effectively banned dilation and evacuation, the most common type of second-trimester abortion. The U.S. Supreme Court is expected to hear legal challenges to some state abortion laws within the next two years.

Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., speaks to the media on April 27, 2015, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as she and local lawmakers and women’s health advocates called for Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott to veto a measure they say would severely restrict access to abortions. The law, which requires a woman to wait 24 hours and make two separate trips to a clinic to obtain an abortion, is one of more than 200 state provisions passed around the nation since 2010 that abortion-rights supporters say restrict access to the procedure. (Getty Images/Joe Raedle)   Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., speaks to the media on April 27, 2015, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., as she and local lawmakers and women’s health advocates called for Florida Republican Gov. Rick Scott to veto a measure they say would severely restrict access to abortions. The law, which requires a woman to wait 24 hours and make two separate trips to a clinic to obtain an abortion, is one of more than 200 state provisions passed around the nation since 2010 that abortion-rights supporters say restrict access to the procedure. (Getty Images/Joe Raedle)

The U.S. abortion rate continues to decline from its peak in 1980, seven years after the Supreme Court established a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade. 1 In 2011, the latest year for which data are available, the abortion rate was 16.9 per 1,000 women ages 15-44 years, according to a national survey by the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. That was down 13 percent from 2008, when the rate hadn’t budged for four years. 2 Abortion rights groups say the renewed decline is likely the result of increased access to more effective birth control and fewer unintended pregnancies. 3 Abortion opponents cite the increase in state abortion laws. 4

Anti-abortion activists have made the most headway at the state level, especially after the November 2010 election, when Republicans consolidated control over many legislatures, followed by further gains in 2014. 5 Between 2011 and early May 2015, states had enacted 261 provisions that opponents say restrict abortions, compared with 189 during the entire previous decade, according to Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues associate for the Guttmacher Institute.

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