State legislatures are often referred to as the laboratories of democracy, and state lawmakers have for years experimented with a deluge of policies designed to restrict or outright ban access to reproductive health care.
State legislators in the first half of 2015 introduced more than 200 bills to restrict reproductive health care. By year’s end, 47 anti-choice laws had been enacted. Measures to expand mandatory waiting periods, ban abortion before viability, and shut down clinics were all passed in 2015, according to a report by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
Republican-majority legislatures are likely to continue to follow that trend during the 2016 legislative sessions, with GOP policymakers primed to introduce new ingredients into their anti-choice experiments.
Forty-six states will have legislative sessions in 2016. Most of those state legislatures go into session sometime in January, with a handful beginning their sessions in February. Louisiana and Minnesota begin their sessions in March, and Arkansas and North Carolina begin sessions in April.
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Republicans dominate state legislatures and governors’ offices. Republicans have control of both the state legislature and governor’s office in 23 states, while Democrats have control of both the state legislature and governor’s office in seven states. There are 19 states in which partisan control of the government is divided.
States to Watch
Anti-choice legislation has been introduced in every state legislature since 2011, but lawmakers in some states introduce a barrage of anti-choice bills during each legislative session.
Republicans in Missouri have introduced 22 anti-choice bills during the past two legislative sessions, and lawmakers have waged a legislative battle against the state’s only abortion clinic. The so-called Committee on the Sanctity of Life has been used as a cudgel by anti-choice lawmakers to attack Planned Parenthood’s funding and access to reproductive health care.
Missouri’s 2015 session begins January 6. State lawmakers have pre-filed at least seven bills to restrict reproductive rights. One bill would ban abortion “performed solely because of a prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome,” and another bill would restrict minors’ access to abortion care.
Lawmakers in Missouri have until January 6 to pre-file bills for the 2016 legislative session.
While most state legislatures convene in January, lawmakers in Louisiana will not begin their legislative session until March. The state has been one of the key fronts in the battle over reproductive rights and in recent years lawmakers have aggressively sought to restrict access to abortion.
Staunchly anti-choice Republican Gov. Bobby Jindal is serving his last few days in office, and Democratic Governor-elect John Bel Edwards will soon take the oath of office. It is unclear if Edwards will be as hostile to abortion rights as Jindal, but Edwards campaigned on a series of anti-choice positions.
There are four state legislatures that do not have legislative sessions during 2016. Texas is the most notable of those states. Few states have had the kind of impact on reproductive rights as the Lone Star State. Not only have GOP lawmakers passed bills that have severely restricted access to reproductive health care—those bills have been replicated in other states.
While Texas lawmakers will not be able to make a direct impact on reproductive rights in 2016, one of the bills passed by Texas Republicans during the 2013 legislative session will be at the center of the most significant reproductive rights cases to come before the Supreme Court in the past two decades. The Roberts Court’s ruling on the challenge to Texas’ omnibus anti-choice law, HB 2, could impact access to abortion care in states around the country.
The most common type of anti-choice policies in state legislatures over the past several years has been targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP) bills. These bills single out abortion clinics and subject them to regulations that are more stringent than those applied to other types of clinics. TRAP bills have also been among the most successful proposals introduced by anti-choice lawmakers, having been passed by Republican-majority legislatures in several states.
Other types of restrictions on reproductive rights likely to be widely introduced, based on the pre-filed bills in multiple states, include bans on abortion based on the sex or race of the fetus, bans on abortion based on genetic abnormalities, including Down syndrome, mandatory waiting periods or forced counseling for women seeking abortions, and bans on insurance coverage of abortion care or bans on coverage of abortion care in the Affordable Care Act insurance exchanges.
Undercover videos of Planned Parenthood employees, published by an anti-choice front group called the Center for Medical Progress (CMP), claimed the videos proved Planned Parenthood was illegally selling tissue from aborted fetuses. The videos gave anti-choice lawmakers in Congress and in Republican-controlled states political cover to conduct investigations into Planned Parenthood and propose new restrictions on abortion care.
CMP has worked closely with Republican legislators to launch political attacks against Planned Parenthood and cut off its state and federal funding.
While the investigations conducted in Congress and in multiple states have concluded that Planned Parenthood has not broken any state or federal fetal tissue donation laws, lawmakers are proposing new policies to restrict fetal tissue donation or create new regulations to govern the handling and disposal of fetal tissue.
A Missouri lawmaker pre-filed a bill that would prohibit any type of fetal tissue donation. SB 644, sponsored by Sen. Bob Onder (R), would create a ban on donating or making an “anatomical gift of the fetal organs and tissue resulting from an abortion to any person or entity for medical, scientific, experimental, therapeutic, or any other use.”
Another bill pre-filed by a lawmaker in Michigan would ban any financial compensation for fetal tissue donation. HB 5086, sponsored by Rep. John Bizon (R), would prohibit any person from knowingly financially benefiting from or receiving “any type of compensation for the distribution or transfer” of an the tissue, organs, or cells of an embryo or fetus “obtained as the result of an elective abortion.”
Lawmakers experimenting with bills to regulate how physicians provide abortion care created anti-choice Frankenstein legislation in the form of bans on “dismemberment” abortions. The bills, copies of legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee, would criminalize a medical procedure used after a miscarriage and during second-trimester abortions.
The bans target the dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedure, commonly used in second-trimester abortion care. The procedure is a method of abortion during which a physician will dilate a woman’s cervix and remove the fetus using forceps, clamps, or other instruments.
Lawmakers in both Michigan and Missouri have pre-filed bills to ban the D and E abortion procedure, and lawmakers in others states are likely to follow suit.