After Midterm Election Defeats, Pro-Choice Activists Brace for Renewed Efforts to Further Erode Access to Abortion

Posted Nov. 26, 2014

MP3 Interview with Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel with the Center for Reproductive Rights, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

abortion

The past two years have seen escalating attacks on abortion rights at the state level as conservative majorities took control of many state legislatures and governors' offices. According to the Guttmacher Institute, more anti-choice legislation was passed between 2011 and 2013 than in the previous ten years. Now, in the wake of the 2014 midterm elections, Republican majorities and super-majorities will be taking control of even more legislatures and additional Republican governors have been elected to office.

While anti-abortion activists in Tennessee celebrated state voters’ Nov. 5 passage of Amendment 1, a measure that gives state lawmakers more power to restrict abortions, pro-choice groups took credit for defeating so-called “personhood” ballot initiatives, in Colorado and North Dakota, which would have granted rights to human embryos and fetuses.

Although the issue of reproductive rights were not the focus of most campaign debates in this election, just as they were barely mentioned in the 2010 midterms, once in office, many GOP legislators have made attacks on abortion rights and birth control a top agenda item. Between The Lines’ Melinda Tuhus spoke with Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel with the Center for Reproductive Rights. Here, she explains why many pro-choice activists are bracing for renewed efforts to further restrict women’s access to abortion when newly-elected conservative politicians take office.

AMANDA ALLEN: You know, we will see a majority of anti-choice governors moving into the 2015 session and we will also see a majority of state legislatures governed by two houses that are likely to be anti-choice. What really happened this election is that we lost ground in a couple of states that really had legislatures that were mixed choice – that maybe weren't super, super hard right anti-abortion, but that could be moving in that direction, so that is one of the reasons why we think we might be seeing more state legislatures that are, on the whole, more anti-choice.

I can definitely answer that question not really with hard numbers or data, but I can definitely provide some examples of states where abortion access has deteriorated. So we've really seen abortion access limited to a very severe degree in states where there's only one clinic left. Those states are North Dakota, South Dakota, Mississippi, Missouri and Wyoming. North Dakota in particular, every year their legislature is in session, their legislators come in and propose and pass bill after bill after bill really, really directly attacking that remaining abortion clinic in the state. You might recall that North Dakota faced a six-week abortion ban last year that the Center for Reproductive Rights successfully got a federal court to block. That was one of several anti-abortion bills considered by the North Dakota legislature last year. Now, North Dakota only meets every other year and so we did not see those types of restrictions in North Dakota this year, but we are gearing up for another tough session there.

Also, Mississippi is another of the states that have only one abortion clinic left, and that clinic is also hanging on by a court order. The Mississippi legislature back in 2012 passed a law that sounds like a good idea – it requires local abortion providers have local hospital admitting privileges. Part of the strategy is to make that kind of requirement sound benign and sound easy to comply with. But of course, the providers in the state have been unable to obtain privileges, not because they provide substandard care, but because abortion is such a politicized issue in the state that not a single hospital would grant those privileges. And so we've got a federal court order blocking that requirement from taking effect. But like I said, that clinic is also hanging on by a court order. So those are just a couple of examples of states in our country where abortion access really is depending on a woman's zip code and where she lives.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Amanda Allen, I know abortion rights had majority support among American voters for decades, but I think that's changed...

AMANDA ALLEN: Well, the polling is actually very compelling on this question. Seven out of 10 Americans do not believe that abortion should be banned and do not believe that Roe v Wade should be overturned. So those are the polling figures that we have. The other thing I would like to say is that, by and large, this election, when abortion rights and reproductive health were squarely before voters, we won. And there are two compelling examples of that at the ballot box in North Dakota and in Colorado. Voters in both of those states faced a question about whether they wanted to insert "fetal personhood" language into their state constitutions, which would of course ban abortion and could possibly ban other very common forms of contraception and in North Dakota even impact things like end of life care. In both instances in this election, voters overwhelmingly rejected those. So I think that really supports the overall numbers that we have on our side, which is again to say that 7 in 10 Americans do not want to see their politicians meddling with the constitutional right to abortion; they do not want to see those protections be overturned.

BETWEEN THE LINES: But voters also support a lot of restrictions on access to abortion, right?

AMANDA ALLEN: I think what we've found is these issues can be very complicated and our opposition has been able to frame their side as being on the side of women's health and safety. But I think what we've seen is that once voters hear that the impact of these laws and the purpose and intent of these laws is actually to make abortion so difficult to obtain that it becomes really a right on paper rather than a right in reality, that they don't support those kinds of measures.

For more information on the Center for Reproductive Rights, visit reproductiverights.org.

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