Analysis Politics

Six States to Watch for Anti-Choice Laws in 2015

Teddy Wilson & Nina Liss-Schultz

Republican gains in state legislatures with once-even partisan splits, along with one state's amendment meant to open the flood gates for abortion restrictions, could spawn a spate of anti-choice legislation in 2015.

Republican gains in state legislatures with once-even partisan splits, along with one state’s amendment meant to open the flood gates for abortion restrictions, could spawn a spate of anti-choice legislation in 2015—one that could include radical 20-week abortion bans, misinformed fetal pain laws, and onerous legal requirements for abortion care providers.

Many state legislators pre-filed bills in the weeks and months before the kickoff of the 2015 legislative sessions, while in some states lawmakers wait until after the new year.

Rewire reporters have sifted through anti-choice proposals that have been pre-filed over the past couple of months, as well as public comments outlining agendas for anti-choice state lawmakers in 2015, to compile a list of six states shaping up to be focal points in the battle for reproductive rights—with many of these legislatures ready and willing to propose laws that have been struck down by various courts as unconstitutional.

This anticipated onslaught of anti-choice bills comes as the soon-to-be GOP-controlled U.S. Senate eyes a national ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.

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Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, told Rewire that moves by congressional Republicans to restrict abortion on the federal level will likely be mirrored by lawmakers on the state level.

“Whatever we see on the federal level, specifically the 20-week abortion ban, we will see at the state level,” Nash said. “This is a fairly symbiotic relationship between the states and Congress, and the type of abortion restrictions that are in play in Congress will also be in play at the state level.”

Because there have been so many restrictions on abortion and reproductive rights passed in Republican-controlled state legislatures in recent years, Nash said that lawmakers will look for ways to make restrictions even more burdensome on women and providers.

“We are expecting a lot of the same types of restrictions that we’ve seen over the past couple of years,” she said. “The issue is that so many restrictions have passed in such a short amount of time that what we’re seeing now are states looking to make their existing restrictions worse.”

South Carolina

In their first opportunity to pre-file bills for the 2015 session, South Carolina lawmakers submitted at least eight anti-choice bills to be taken up; among them, a fetal pain ban, a medication abortion ban, and an admitting privileges law. All eight bills were introduced by only three state senators, and the state legislature has already indicated it will try to push through a series of extreme anti-choice laws in an attempt to “see which gets the most traction” among the state legislature’s anti-choice majority.

Missouri

State lawmakers in Missouri introduced more legislation to restrict reproductive rights in 2014 than lawmakers in any other state. More than 30 bills to restrict reproductive rights were put forward by Missouri’s collection of influential anti-choice policymakers. The legislature did not hold votes on most of the bills, but lawmakers passed a bill to extend the state’s mandatory waiting period for women seeking an abortion. The Republican majorities in both the state house and senate were able to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, increasing the waiting period for abortions from 24 to 72 hours. Despite the protests of reproductive rights advocates, lawmakers have already pre-filed more than half a dozen bills to restrict reproductive rights in 2015. In recent months most of the public and media attention in the state has been focused on Ferguson, but in January, state lawmakers may pull that attention to Jefferson City and a coordinated campaign to ram through laws meant to chip away at reproductive rights.

New Mexico

State lawmakers nationwide have passed legislation to restrict access to reproductive health care, but in New Mexico, attempts to restrict women’s access to health services have gained little traction. Consequently, reproductive health-care clinics in the state have provided care for more and more women from surrounding states, where access to abortion has been severely limited. However, a Republican governor with an increasing national profile and a newly elected Republican majority in the state house leaves the future of New Mexico’s reproductive rights in doubt. Bills to change the laws governing parental notification of minors seeking abortion care will likely be introduced, and other bills to increase restrictions on abortion access are possible. If advocates are hoping to prevent possible restrictions on reproductive rights from becoming law, they will have to look to the Democratic majority in the state senate.

Tennessee

Voters in Tennessee on Election Day approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that will allow state lawmakers to pass and implement legislation restricting abortion. State lawmakers have already pre-filed legislation to restrict reproductive rights in the state, while a recent public opinion survey found that Tennessee residents are divided on how many restrictions should be placed on reproductive rights. With significant majorities in both the state house and senate, Tennessee Republican lawmakers will likely introduce several bills to restrict reproductive rights in the state thanks to the passage of Amendment 1. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) supported the constitutional amendment, and has expressed willingness to sign most bills to restricting reproductive rights.

Texas

The state capitol building in Austin remained quiet during 2014, as the bicameral Texas legislature was out of session. It’s difficult to predict the impact the 84th Texas legislature will have on reproductive rights when state lawmakers return to Austin for the 2015 session. The 2013 session saw dozens of bills designed to restrict reproductive rights in a variety of ways. The battle over reproductive rights in the Lone Star State culminated in the debate over SB 5 and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) filibustering the bill for 11 hours. Davis was joined by thousands of protesters both in and outside of the capitol building. The policy and political priorities of the newly elected Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) are still unclear. However, it’s clear that Texas will once again play an outsized role in the continued effort by Republican-controlled state legislatures to turn back the clock on reproductive rights.

Wisconsin

While legislative battles over workers’ rights and Republican-led cuts to the state’s social safety net may play the most prominent role in Wisconsin’s upcoming legislative session, there may be significant attempts to roll back reproductive rights in Wisconsin. Lawmakers introduced several anti-choice bills during the 2014 legislative session. A bill that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker (R), but a U.S. federal court blocked the law from taking effect. The Wisconsin Right to Life will lobby anti-choice lawmakers in 2015 to introduce several bills to restrict reproductive rights. Among the anti-choice bills highest on their list of priorities is a ban on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation.

News Sexual Health

State with Nation’s Highest Chlamydia Rate Enacts New Restrictions on Sex Ed

Nicole Knight Shine

By requiring sexual education instructors to be certified teachers, the Alaska legislature is targeting Planned Parenthood, which is the largest nonprofit provider of such educational services in the state.

Alaska is imposing a new hurdle on comprehensive sexual health education with a law restricting schools to only hiring certificated school teachers to teach or supervise sex ed classes.

The broad and controversial education bill, HB 156, became law Thursday night without the signature of Gov. Bill Walker, a former Republican who switched his party affiliation to Independent in 2014. HB 156 requires school boards to vet and approve sex ed materials and instructors, making sex ed the “most scrutinized subject in the state,” according to reproductive health advocates.

Republicans hold large majorities in both chambers of Alaska’s legislature.

Championing the restrictions was state Sen. Mike Dunleavy (R-Wasilla), who called sexuality a “new concept” during a Senate Education Committee meeting in April. Dunleavy added the restrictions to HB 156 after the failure of an earlier measure that barred abortion providers—meaning Planned Parenthood—from teaching sex ed.

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Dunleavy has long targeted Planned Parenthood, the state’s largest nonprofit provider of sexual health education, calling its instruction “indoctrination.”

Meanwhile, advocates argue that evidence-based health education is sorely needed in a state that reported 787.5 cases of chlamydia per 100,000 people in 2014—the nation’s highest rate, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Surveillance Survey for that year.

Alaska’s teen pregnancy rate is higher than the national average.

The governor in a statement described his decision as a “very close call.”

“Given that this bill will have a broad and wide-ranging effect on education statewide, I have decided to allow HB 156 to become law without my signature,” Walker said.

Teachers, parents, and advocates had urged Walker to veto HB 156. Alaska’s 2016 Teacher of the Year, Amy Jo Meiners, took to Twitter following Walker’s announcement, writing, as reported by Juneau Empire, “This will cause such a burden on teachers [and] our partners in health education, including parents [and] health [professionals].”

An Anchorage parent and grandparent described her opposition to the bill in an op-ed, writing, “There is no doubt that HB 156 is designed to make it harder to access real sexual health education …. Although our state faces its largest budget crisis in history, certain members of the Legislature spent a lot of time worrying that teenagers are receiving information about their own bodies.”

Jessica Cler, Alaska public affairs manager with Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest and Hawaii, called Walker’s decision a “crushing blow for comprehensive and medically accurate sexual health education” in a statement.

She added that Walker’s “lack of action today has put the education of thousands of teens in Alaska at risk. This is designed to do one thing: Block students from accessing the sex education they need on safe sex and healthy relationships.”

The law follows the 2016 Legislative Round-up released this week by advocacy group Sexuality Information and Education Council of the United States. The report found that 63 percent of bills this year sought to improve sex ed, but more than a quarter undermined student rights or the quality of instruction by various means, including “promoting misinformation and an anti-abortion agenda.”

Roundups Politics

Campaign Week in Review: ‘If You Don’t Vote … You Are Trifling’

Ally Boguhn

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party's convention.

The chair of the Democratic National Convention (DNC) this week blasted those who sit out on Election Day, and mothers who lost children to gun violence were given a platform at the party’s convention.

DNC Chair Marcia Fudge: “If You Don’t Vote, You Are Ungrateful, You Are Lazy, and You Are Trifling”

The chair of the 2016 Democratic National Convention, Rep. Marcia Fudge (D-OH), criticized those who choose to sit out the election while speaking on the final day of the convention.

“If you want a decent education for your children, you had better vote,” Fudge told the party’s women’s caucus, which had convened to discuss what is at stake for women and reproductive health and rights this election season.

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“If you want to make sure that hungry children are fed, you had better vote,” said Fudge. “If you want to be sure that all the women who survive solely on Social Security will not go into poverty immediately, you had better vote.”

“And if you don’t vote, let me tell you something, there is no excuse for you. If you don’t vote, you don’t count,” she said.

“So as I leave, I’m just going to say this to you. You tell them I said it, and I’m not hesitant about it. If you don’t vote, you are ungrateful, you are lazy, and you are trifling.”

The congresswoman’s website notes that she represents a state where some legislators have “attempted to suppress voting by certain populations” by pushing voting restrictions that “hit vulnerable communities the hardest.”

Ohio has recently made headlines for enacting changes that would make it harder to vote, including rolling back the state’s early voting period and purging its voter rolls of those who have not voted for six years.

Fudge, however, has worked to expand access to voting by co-sponsoring the federal Voting Rights Amendment Act, which would restore the protections of the Voting Rights Act that were stripped by the Supreme Court in Shelby County v. Holder.

“Mothers of the Movement” Take the National Spotlight

In July 2015, the Waller County Sheriff’s Office released a statement that 28-year-old Sandra Bland had been found dead in her jail cell that morning due to “what appears to be self-asphyxiation.” Though police attempted to paint the death a suicide, Bland’s family has denied that she would have ended her own life given that she had just secured a new job and had not displayed any suicidal tendencies.

Bland’s death sparked national outcry from activists who demanded an investigation, and inspired the hashtag #SayHerName to draw attention to the deaths of Black women who died at the hands of police.

Tuesday night at the DNC, Bland’s mother, Geneva Reed-Veal, and a group of other Black women who have lost children to gun violence, in police custody, or at the hands of police—the “Mothers of the Movement”—told the country why the deaths of their children should matter to voters. They offered their support to Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton during a speech at the convention.

“One year ago yesterday, I lived the worst nightmare anyone could imagine. I watched as my daughter was lowered into the ground in a coffin,” said Geneva Reed-Veal.

“Six other women have died in custody that same month: Kindra Chapman, Alexis McGovern, Sarah Lee Circle Bear, Raynette Turner, Ralkina Jones, and Joyce Curnell. So many of our children are gone, but they are not forgotten,” she continued. 

“You don’t stop being a mom when your child dies,” said Lucia McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis. “His life ended the day that he was shot and killed for playing loud music. But my job as his mother didn’t.” 

McBath said that though she had lost her son, she continued to work to protect his legacy. “We’re going to keep telling our children’s stories and we’re urging you to say their names,” she said. “And we’re also going to keep using our voices and our votes to support leaders, like Hillary Clinton, who will help us protect one another so that this club of heartbroken mothers stops growing.” 

Sybrina Fulton, the mother of Trayvon Martin, called herself “an unwilling participant in this movement,” noting that she “would not have signed up for this, [nor would] any other mother that’s standing here with me today.” 

“But I am here today for my son, Trayvon Martin, who is in heaven, and … his brother, Jahvaris Fulton, who is still here on Earth,” Fulton said. “I did not want this spotlight. But I will do everything I can to focus some of this light on the pain of a path out of the darkness.”

What Else We’re Reading

Renee Bracey Sherman explained in Glamour why Democratic vice presidential nominee Tim Kaine’s position on abortion scares her.

NARAL’s Ilyse Hogue told Cosmopolitan why she shared her abortion story on stage at the DNC.

Lilly Workneh, the Huffington Post’s Black Voices senior editor, explained how the DNC was “powered by a bevy of remarkable black women.”

Rebecca Traister wrote about how Clinton’s historic nomination puts the Democratic nominee “one step closer to making the impossible possible.”

Rewire attended a Democrats for Life of America event while in Philadelphia for the convention and fact-checked the group’s executive director.

A woman may have finally clinched the nomination for a major political party, but Judith Warner in Politico Magazine took on whether the “glass ceiling” has really been cracked for women in politics.

With Clinton’s nomination, “Dozens of other women across the country, in interviews at their offices or alongside their children, also said they felt on the cusp of a major, collective step forward,” reported Jodi Kantor for the New York Times.

According to Philly.com, Philadelphia’s Maternity Care Coalition staffed “eight curtained breast-feeding stalls on site [at the DNC], complete with comfy chairs, side tables, and electrical outlets.” Republicans reportedly offered similar accommodations at their convention the week before.