State Trends: Abortion, Personhood, Sex Ed and STIs

Rachel Gold and Elizabeth Nash

With the legislative year well underway, laws to establish fetal personhood, mandating medically accurate sex ed, and treating partners for STIs are on the move.

With the legislative year well
underway, some interesting trends are beginning to emerge in a number
of states. These include attempts in six states to declare a fetus a
person from the moment of conception-measures that not only aim to
ban abortion, but would affect contraception as well (more on this topic

By the end of March 2009, a
total of 704 measures related to sexual and reproductive health had
been introduced in the 49 legislatures that have convened so far this
year, and 11 new laws had been enacted in five states. One of the laws passed allows the
provision of treatment for sexually transmitted infections (STI) for
a patient’s partner (Utah), while two increase access to emergency
contraception (Utah and Virginia). The remaining eight laws are all
related to abortion. These laws: 

  • ban "partial-birth"
    abortion (Arkansas);
  • restrict post-viability
    abortions (Utah);
  • require abortion
    clinics to post signs about coercion (Kansas and Ohio) or to inform
    women about the possibility that a fetus can feel pain (Utah);
  • require providers
    to give women a list of organizations that would provide a free ultrasound
    and offer them the opportunity to view the image if an ultrasound is
    performed in preparation for an abortion (Kansas);
  • authorize funding
    for crisis pregnancy centers from the sale of "Choose Life" license
    plates (Virginia); and
  • create a fund to
    cover the state’s abortion litigation costs (Utah).


In addition, we are seeing
three major new trends emerging in states across the nation: 

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Establishing Fetal Personhood

Legislators in six states (Alabama,
Georgia, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina) have introduced
measures similar to one that was soundly defeated by voters in Colorado
last year that would have declared a fetus a person from the moment
of conception. This strategy is being pursued by an emerging far-right
wing of the anti-abortion movement, in explicit rejection of what is
perceived as a willingness on the part of some mainstream organizations
to push for restrictions that would reduce abortion rather than ban
it entirely. 

[Note: The measures in Alabama,
Maryland and South Carolina are still pending, while those in Montana
and North Dakota were each passed by one chamber of the legislature
but then defeated in the second chamber; the Georgia legislature adjourned
for the year without taking any action on its bill.]  

Although they all seek a similar
end, the measures would take different routes to achieving their goal.
The bills introduced in Georgia, Montana and Maryland would put a measure
on the ballot in 2010 to establish fetal personhood, while those in
Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina would formally interpret existing
state statutory or constitutional provisions to extend personhood to
a fetus. The wording of the measures differs slightly as well. The bills
in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina would define a fetus as a person
from the "moment of fertilization." The Maryland and Montana bills
would apply to a fetus at "any stage of human biological development,"
and the North Dakota bill would apply to "any organism… that possesses
the human genome." Nonetheless, all of the measures would affect contraception
as well as abortion. 

Mandating Medically Accurate Sex Education

Thirty-six bills have been
introduced so far this year in 20 states that would require medical
accuracy in school sex education. (In 2008, 20 such measures were introduced
in 12 states.) 

Measures have already been
approved by a legislative chamber in Hawaii and Oregon. A bill approved
by the Hawaii Senate in February would require that all sex education
in the state include information on both abstinence and contraception
and be medically accurate and age-appropriate. The legislation specifies
that the instruction would have to be in accordance with "accepted
scientific methods and recognized as accurate and objective by professional
organizations and agencies with expertise in the relevant field, such
as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the
American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics
and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists."  

The measure approved by the
Oregon House in March would codify existing state regulations requiring
that sex education be medically accurate. It would also replace the
regulations’ mandate that abstinence be described as "the most safe
and responsible sexual behavior" for unmarried individuals with a
requirement to teach abstinence as "the most effective method" of
pregnancy and STI prevention for monogamous adults. 

Twelve states currently require
that the information provided in sex education classes be medically
accurate. In 10 of these states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa,
Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington), the mandate
applies to all sex education in the state. In two states (Alabama and
North Carolina), the requirement applies only to the information provided
about contraception.   

Treating Partners for STIs

In 2006, the CDC recommended
that health care providers treating patients for chlamydia and gonorrhea
also provide treatment for the patient’s partner, even if he or she
has not been seen by the provider.  Between 2006 and 2008, six
states (Arizona, California, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota and New York)
have adopted laws, and three states (New Mexico, North Dakota and Tennessee)
have promulgated regulations to allow physicians to write prescriptions for a partner, even if the provider has not seen the partner. Some of the laws also require that patients take home information for their partner, such as fact sheets about infection, treatment, and possible allergic reactions to medication. This year,
similar measures have been introduced in eight states (Illinois, Missouri,
Montana, Nevada, Oregon, North Dakota, Utah and Vermont); the Utah measure
was enacted. 

Bills pending in three states
(North Dakota, Nevada and Oregon) would allow partner treatment for
all STIs, while those in three others (Illinois, Missouri and Montana)
would apply to treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhea; the bill pending
in Vermont would apply only to chlamydia treatment. The new Utah statute
applies to chlamydia and gonorrhea, bringing to 10 the number of states
explicitly permitting partner treatment for at least some STIs. 

Click here for additional information

reproductive health legislative developments this year

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