Your Reproductive Rights in 2012: Things Got Better, But They're Still Bad

Your Reproductive Rights in 2012: Things Got Better, But They're Still Bad

Here’s the good news: anti-choice legislators enacted fewer abortion restrictions in 2012 than in 2011. The bad news? They still managed to devise a shitton of ways to restrict abortion access, particularly for low-income women, and no laws were enacted to actually improve access to abortion, family planning, or sex ed. Better luck next year?

Here’s a recap of 2012’s reproductive rights highs and lows:

42 states and the District of Columbia passed 122 reproductive health-related measures in 2012. The express purpose of one-third of those — 43 in 19 states — was to limit access to abortion. Is this the worst year in abortion restriction history? Nope — a whopping 92 abortion restrictions were enacted in 2011. But 43 is the second highest number of new abortion restrictions passed in a year, so let’s not pat ourselves on the back (uterus?) just yet.


The always awesome Guttmacher Institute broke down the year’s most notable abortion legislation moments (that countdown was left out of ‘Dick Clark’s New Year’s Rockin’ Eve’) with some helpful charts and detailed statistics.

TL;DR: There’s hope! Reproductive health advocates prevented attacks on abortion access in states including Alabama, Idaho, Minnesota, Pennsylvania, and Virginia. Remember when seven states took funding away from family planning providers in 2011? Only two did in 2012.

But no laws — none whatsoever — were enacted in 2012 that would’ve actually improved access to reproductive health, including not only abortion but family planning and comprehensive sex education. Which means that the politicians you support had to spend more time and energy preventing bad things from happening than passing helpful, worthwhile legislation. 2012’s reproductive rights motto: “It could be worse.” (2011’s was “Oh fuck.”)

Over half (24/43) of the new abortion restrictions were enacted in the same six states. Women in Arizona: You have our sympathies, because 7 of those 24 were passed where you live. Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Wisconsin all enacted at least three. Here’s a rundown of the myriad of ways legislators tried to get into your underwear this year:

Unnecessary and uncomfortable red herring pre-abortion procedures: Remember the controversy that ensued after Virginia’s state government proposed that all women should get mandatory invasive transvaginal ultrasounds, because they had already had sex so why would they care what goes up their vaginas anyway? The subsequent outrage stilted similar efforts in other states, but Virginia did pass a lighter version of the bill, which means that eight states now require an ultrasound prior to receiving an abortion.

Keeping tabs on those wily abortion providers: Politicians love to force irrelevant and overly stringent restrictions on abortion providers, blabbering about how it’s because they should be “held to the same standards” as other medical facilities while making sure said restrictions only apply to surgical and medication abortion providers, not other providers of outpatient surgical and medical care. Examples: Michigan’s HB 5711 mandates that the state health department require providers that perform at least 120 abortions per year to adopt the same architectural and licensing requirements as ambulatory surgical facilities, because god forbid those doorways aren’t wide enough! There’s also a new law in Virginia that requires all clinics that perform at least five abortions a month to meet the same building standards as hospitals. Who knew anti-choicers were so into architecture?

Hospital privileges: Three states enacted legislation that requires abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges, even though other outpatient surgical and medical providers don’t. It’s not that providers don’t want to have those privileges, it’s that the hospitals in these states — Arizona, Mississippi, and Tennessee — rarely want to give them. The politicians know that, of course, hence the pretense over “protecting the health of the mother” aka shutting down as many abortion providers as possible.

Later abortion: Multiple states defied U.S. Supreme Court decisions by banning abortion prior to fetal viability. Oh, and these restrictions — enacted in Arizona, Georgia, and Louisiana — don’t allow for an abortion even in cases when necessary to protect a woman’s life or health, because the fetus is obvs more important. As of now, only Louisana’s law, which bans abortion 22 weeks after the woman’s last period is in full effect. I guess it’s time for 2012’s motto: could be worse, but still pretty fucking shitty/illegal.

Abortion insurance coverage: 20 states now restrict abortion coverage available through state health insurance exchanges. (Obamacare? What’s that? Let’s pretend it never happened!) New additions include Alabama, South Carolina, South Dakota, and Wisconsin.

Medication abortion: Telemedicine is a lifesaver in rural areas. But Michigan, Oklahoma, and Wisconsin banned its use because OMG what if a doctor prescribed abortion medication over the phone to a woman who doesn’t have easy access to a clinic? (The number of unplanned pregnancies would decrease! Baaaaad.) Seven states now prohibit the use of telemedicine.

Obligatory counseling and waiting periods: 18 states now require that a woman who wants an abortion be given ridiculous, misleading information, such as “abortion causes breast cancer!” or “abortion will make you want to kill yourself!” or “look at this Cabbage Patch Kid, that’s what the embryo inside of you looks like right now! It can already do its multiplication tables!” (Fine, the last one is a slight exaggeration, but the other two are not.) South Dakota and Arizona (I’m getting really sick of typing the word “Arizona”) passed provisions requiring a woman seeking an abortion to obtain such counseling before making her own choices about her body. The new ultrasound mandate in Virgina requires women who live less than 100 miles away from a clinic to get an ultrasound 24 hours in advance of her abortion, which means women need to make two trips there before the procedure; women in 10 states are now similarly inconvenienced. Oh, and Utah increased its mandatory waiting period from 24 to 72 hours, just for fun.

Other reproductive health notes: Maine slashed family planning funding by 25%, Arizona and North Carolina disqualified family planning clinics not operated by health departments (which really just means clinics operated by Planned Parenthood affiliates) from getting family planning grant funds, eight states introduced and two enacted provisions barring insurance coverage of contraceptive services if employers don’t feel comfortable with their lady employees taking the pill, and 26 states think sex ed means telling teenagers that abstinence is their only hope.

Will 2013 be a little easier on our uteri? Will all our new lady senators (well, almost all of them) fight for our reproductive rights? Here’s hoping.

Image by Jim Cooke.

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