Analysis Law and Policy

Following Well-Worn Scripts, State Lawmakers Renew Assault on Access to Abortion Care

Sofia Resnick & Imani Gandy

As state legislative sessions gear up for what could be one of the worst years on record for reproductive rights, anti-choice lawmakers across the country have in recent weeks filed barrages of laws that would restrict access to safe and legal abortion. Many of these laws are identical, or nearly so, to laws that have repeatedly failed in the same states where they are being reintroduced.

Last year, a band of Missouri lawmakers tried to ban public funds going to abortion and human cloning. It was a quixotic act, given that such bans are already found in both state and federal law. Nonetheless, these legislators failed to ferry their redundant laws through the state house, and the bill died.

One might think, then, that anti-choice lawmakers in that state would avoid wasting further time and taxpayer dollars trying again to pass duplicative laws that have already failed.

One would be wrong. Indeed, in Missouri, a new group of lawmakers has now proposed a bill identical to the ban that failed last year.

As state legislative sessions gear up for what could be one of the worst years on record for reproductive rights, anti-choice lawmakers across the country have in recent weeks filed barrages of laws that would restrict access to safe and legal abortion, all while duplicitously claiming that these measures are needed to “protect” women. Many of these laws are identical, or nearly so, to laws that have repeatedly failed in the same states where they are being reintroduced, an analysis by Rewire shows. Our research shows that all of the 22 anti-choice bills that were pre-filed in six states this year—Florida, Iowa, Missouri, New Hampshire, South Carolina, and Texas—are identical or substantially similar to bills proposed in prior years.

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Many of these bills originate with one of four main organizations, our research has found. Based on analysis presented in Rewire Data, those organizations are: Americans United for Life, the National Right to Life Committee, and, to a lesser extent, the Alliance Defending Freedom and the Susan B. Anthony List. (Search for more model bills, and the lawmakers who sponsor them, here.)

With hundreds of pre-written bills at the ready, the underlying strategy is to throw every bill into the mix, hoping that one might pass. Anti-choice lawmakers are also fighting a war of attrition, reintroducing failed bills until they gather the numbers to pass.

After years of failure, these strategies are now garnering considerable and growing success, best demonstrated by the passage in 2013 of Texas’s regressive anti-choice omnibus law, HB 2. As we have previously reported, that law passed only after years of unsuccessful attempts by anti-choice legislators, who were undeterred by their prior failures, and with the help of Republican Gov. Rick Perry, who called two special sessions of the legislature to ensure passage.

In the aftermath of GOP gains last November, reproductive rights advocates anticipate that this year will see an intensification of the anti-choice legislative frenzy.

“[T]he midterm election results provide good reason to be concerned about a renewed focus on restricting abortion in the upcoming 2015 legislative sessions,” write analysts for the Guttmacher Institute in a recent report.

It’s not just the last elections that are creating this push. Another reason this year is shaping up to be particularly harrowing for reproductive rights is that some state lawmakers already have their eyes set on races in 2016, according to South Carolina state Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg), who has been the most active lawmaker when it comes to pre-filing anti-choice bills in that state. (See below for details of each bill.)

“A lot of legislators—you know, 2016 is an election year, and they’ll want something to put on the pro-life card,” Bright told Rewire. “I think something will pass, but I don’t know what.”

Bright predicts that more legislators will push for state-based 20-week bans, a measure heavily backed by the National Right to Life Committee, which scores state lawmakers on their “pro-life” credentials leading up to an election. Focus on the 20-week ban could explain why three different state senators in South Carolina separately introduced the same 20-week ban bill.

As a preview for the year to come, Rewire has assessed many of the state bills that were pre-filed before the beginning of states’ legislative sessions and identified some of the proposals that have similarities to model bills and previously enacted laws in other states.

What emerges is a picture of how the legal architects of the anti-choice movement are succeeding in building a state-based framework that is making abortion increasingly inaccessible, if not illegal.

Here’s a selection of some bills to watch.

Florida

In Florida, Rep. Walter Bryan “Mike” Hill (R-Pensacola) introduced a bill that would require an abortion provider to have admitting privileges at a hospital located within 30 miles of the clinic where he or she performs procedures; it is similar to an AUL model bill.

Iowa

In Iowa, Sen. David Johnson (R-Ocheyedan) pre-filed a bill that would require a woman to wait 72 hours after her first visit to a provider before having an abortion and would require providers to have admitting privileges. He also introduced a bill that would forbid telemedicine abortion, a method for administering an early abortion that is widely recognized as safe and effective and that lowers the costs of abortion care.

Telemedicine is widely used to serve rural communities, for example, where access to abortion and other forms of health care is limited. In an interview with Rewire, Johnson said he does not oppose telemedicine in general—which inherently involves telecommunication to allow a health provider to provide health care remotely—but said he considers the practice in this case to be “dangerous” because “a physician is not present physically.”

In contrast to Johnson’s claims, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) has stated that medical abortion can be provided “safely and effectively via telemedicine with a high level of patient satisfaction” and has been shown to reduce the instance of second-trimester abortions.

Johnson’s waiting period bill is similar to other “Women’s Right to Know” bills in Missouri (passed last year) and Oklahoma (also passed last year). He said he worked on the bill with state groups, such as Iowans for Life, Iowa Right to Life, and the Iowa Catholic Conference. Though Johnson said he did not work with Americans United for Life on this bill, he said he has worked with AUL on other legislation in the past. Johnson said he believes this waiting period will “reduce the number of abortions” in Iowa.

“I’ve seen data from other states that show that there are women who, given the time to further consider options like adoption or the option—and I want to emphasize option—of seeing an ultrasound, that that woman might carry that unborn child to term,” Johnson said, though he was unable to recall where that data came from, adding, “I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of that.”

Previous studies contradict Johnson’s unsupported claim. According to a study published last year in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 98.4 percent of women seeking abortions still opted to terminate their pregnancies after viewing a sonogram. And in 2012, the Guttmacher Institute’s Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health published a report showing that 87 percent of women seeking abortions were not deterred in their decisions by mandatory waiting periods or laws requiring counseling.

Missouri

In addition to the bill to ban public funding for abortion or human cloning, Missouri lawmakers have re-introduced a spate of anti-choice laws that failed last session.

The proposed restrictions include a bill that would require a minor to obtain parental consent before she can have an abortion. HB 81 appears to be partially based on model legislation crafted by AUL and is identical to last year’s unsuccessful HB 1845. On its Facebook page, AUL praised the bill’s sponsor, Rep. Sonya Anderson (R-Springfield), for testifying in favor of HB 1845, which AUL noted “is based on AUL’s model legislation.”

Neither AUL nor these Missouri lawmakers responded to requests to confirm the influence of AUL models on these bills. View more of Missouri’s anti-choice proposals here.

New Hampshire

In New Hampshire, Rep. Warren Groen (R-Rochester) pre-filed a bill that would prohibit public funds for abortion services, which he said is based on an AUL model.

Groen makes no attempt to hide his disdain for the constitutionally protected right to abortion care.

“[W]e have a state full of private clinics, public health clinics, community health clinics,” Groen said in an interview with Rewire. “We have clinics operating out of motor homes. We have all kinds of health-care delivery systems. … But you have to be pretty poverty stricken intellectually to want to turn to a quote-unquote health organization whose specialty is killing babies.”

Groen introduced a similar bill in 2011, which he said was based on a model crafted by the Susan B. Anthony List and the Alliance Defending Freedom, national nonprofits that advocate against abortion rights and access to contraception at the legislative and legal levels. Groen said he has been working with AUL for years.

Groen told Rewire this bill has good chances of passing in the GOP-controlled house and senate, but he expects Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan, whom he described as a “radical pro-abortion governor,” would veto it.

South Carolina

A handful of lawmakers from the Palmetto State pre-filed a slew of anti-abortion bills, ranging from a total ban in the form of a “personhood” bill to a bill that would require abortion providers to have medically unnecessary admitting privileges at hospitals, a tactic that has tempered the ability of providers to perform abortions in other states.

State Sen. Lee Bright (R-Spartanburg) sponsored the majority of the bills pre-filed in his state legislature this year.

“I wish abortion wasn’t legal,” he said in an interview with Rewire.

Bright, who last year failed in his bid to unseat U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, has sponsored and co-sponsored a “personhood” bill that would “[establish] that the right to life for each born and preborn human being vests at fertilization.”

He also filed a bill that would outlaw abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat; a bill that would ban abortion at 20 weeks and is similar to other state 20-week bans that are based on the National Right to Life Committee’s model; and a bill that would prohibit employer contributions to the State Health Insurance Plan from being used to reimburse the expenses of an abortion.

Bright said he didn’t work directly with organizations in the development of these bills but has worked in the past with AUL on a budget measure dealing with Planned Parenthood funding.

However, Sens. Lawrence Grooms (R-Berkeley) and Kevin Bryant’s (R-Anderson) bill restricting medication abortion appears to be based on an AUL model. Neither lawmaker responded to requests for comment.

Texas

Rep. Allen Fletcher (R-Cypress) has sponsored a ban on so-called sex-selective abortions that is similar to an AUL model. He was quoted in a March 2014 amicus brief arguing that the United States “has become a safe haven for those seeking legal sex-selective abortions.” In reality, however, actual sex-selection abortions are not commonplace in the United States.

Rep. Debbie Riddle (R-Spring) has sponsored a bill that would require abortion clinic staff to complete training on human trafficking. Riddle is outspoken in her opposition to abortion. In a video defending Texas’ controversial HB 2—which is back on trial at the Fifth Circuit Court and was based in part on AUL model legislation—Riddle explained her opposition, in part citing that God “knitted us together in our mother’s womb.”

Follow Rewire Data to track new anti-choice bills, and their origins of influence.

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