New state laws employ Roe v. Wade provisions to restrict abortions

Tools

by Chris Patterson

(CNN) -- A handful of conservative states have been passing laws that tread heavily on abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade. Alabama and Indiana are about to join them, with fresh legislation waiting for signatures on their governors' desks.

A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said Thursday that the laws are the tip of the iceberg in a broader assault on a woman's right to choose.

"Bills like these have been introduced in 42 states. This is a whole new level of attack on women's health," said Staci Fox, who heads the organization's Southeast division.

Some of the states that have already passed new laws did so in anticipation of legal challenges and have already shored up war chests to fund the battles.

"This level of hostility is a wake-up call for women around the country," Fox said.

Two types of laws

Some states have passed laws that blatantly go against parts of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down state abortion bans in 1973 and made it legal in the United States. Others use portions of the Roe v. Wade ruling to make it harder for abortion clinics to operate.

Fox has dealt with the latter kind in Mississippi and is anticipating a similar one soon in Alabama. The laws put abortions out of reach, she said, although on the surface they would seem to promote the health of a woman seeking the procedure.

"One of them is called the Women's Health and Safety Act," she said with a sense of irony.

Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to put his signature on a new bill soon that drastically raises the safety requirements for abortion clinics to operate.

The measure passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses. Comments by House Speaker Mike Hubbard sum up the bill's gist and how it works.

"Though I am completely opposed to legalized abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court unfortunately allows it to remain the law of the land," Hubbard said. "But with the passage of this legislation, we are doing everything we can to ensure the procedure is performed in a safe and healthy environment."

The bill is the centerpiece of the "We Dare Defend Our Right to Life" section of the House Republican caucus' 2013 legislative agenda.

It's working in Mississippi

Once signed, Alabama's new law would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of an "ambulatory surgical center," Fox said.

This means the state's five abortion clinics would have to widen the sizes of rooms and doorways, forcing them to remodel.

"It puts an undue burden on existing facilities. All of this makes it harder to access health care," Fox said.

It also requires family planning clinics to be able to admit patients to hospitals. It's unnecessary, Fox said. Abortions are one of the safest procedures for women, she said.

It creates a hurdle that may force facilities to close their doors, because hospitals in conservative states will refuse the admission privileges to them.

With a similar law passed last year, legislators in Mississippi are on the verge of shutting down the state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization.

"The provider has applied to seven hospitals for privileges and been denied," Fox said.

The Mississippi law goes a step further. Doctors performing abortions must be OB/GYNs board certified in Mississippi. Most doctors working in family planning clinics are on a traveling circuit from other states, Fox said. And many come from other fields of medicine.

It's also harder for locally rooted doctors to work at the clinics. It can harm their reputations in conservative states, she said. "And there are safety concerns as well."

The Jackson clinic is desperately looking for someone to fit that bill and is running a want ad at the top of its homepage.

Other states' moves on Roe v. Wade

Indiana's legislature put a bill on the Gov. Mike Pence's desk this week that uses a similar tactic to hamper distribution of the "morning-after" pill, CNN affiliate WRTV in Indianapolis reported.

Clinics distributing the drug RU-486 would have to meet surgical standards, even if they don't offer surgical abortions.

Legislators in North Dakota and Arkansas passed laws this year sternly shortening the period of time in which a woman may legally terminate a pregnancy.

Roe v. Wade gives states leeway in weighing the woman's rights with the right to protect life, but it lays down that wiggle room in terms of trimesters.

In the first trimester, decisions are to be left up to the woman and her physician. In the second trimester, the state may regulate abortion only in the interest of the woman's health.

In early March, Arkansas passed a law banning abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy. The state's Republican-controlled House and Senate overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe to do it.

Beebe complained the law "blatantly contradicts the United States Constitution, as interpreted by the Supreme Court."

Many called it the most restrictive such law in the country at the time.

But weeks later, North Dakota one-upped Arkansas with its own anti-abortion law.

It bans most pregnancy terminations after just six weeks, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected. That gives a woman just a month and half to figure out that she is pregnant and make a decision on what to do about it.

"North Dakota's governor today effectively banned abortion in the state, with an outrageous and unconstitutional law that will not stand," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

Judicial warfare

Legislators in North Dakota and Arkansas are already anticipating challenges in federal courts and have already set aside funds to pay legal fees.

North Dakota's governor said he expects to ultimately lose the battle, but he feels it's worth it.

"This bill is ... a legitimate attempt by a state legislature to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade," Gov. Jack Dalrymple has said in a statement.

The Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas have already promised to mount a legal challenge in federal court.

The Jackson women's clinic is already fighting its state in federal court, in order to stay open. If it loses, Mississippi would become the first abortion-free state in the union.

"Anti-choice politicians were very clear that they had one thing in mind when they passed this law: to shut down Mississippi's only abortion clinic," said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights.

For the good of women?

Lawmakers in many of the states have justified their measures as steps to ensure quality health care for women seeking abortions -- in line with the wording of Roe v. Wade.

Hubbard for example said Alabama's bill "safeguarded the health and safety of Alabama women."

But conservative legislators have not been shy about admitting their ultimate goal behind the new measures.

"Republicans boldly defended the rights of the unborn," Hubbard has said in a statement.

Alabama's new law also propagates conservative sexual morals for teens.

It requires clinics to ask pregnant girls younger than 16 -- below the legal age of consent to sex -- to identify the father. If he is 17 years of age or older, the clinic is required to report both of them to the police.