Chart created by the Guttmacher Institute
Compared with other anti-abortion legislation enacted this year, the latest bill passed
by both houses of the Louisiana legislature and sure to be signed by Gov. Bobby Jindal is small potatoes. The law, which received only one nay vote in the state Senate and House, requires abortion clinics to prominently post signs telling women that they cannot be forced to have an abortion, that fathers are liable for child support and that it is legal for adoptive parents to cover the costs of prenatal care and birth expenses.
It also mandates that abortion providers inform women about a propaganda-laden Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals website that includes information on adoption services and promotes "crisis pregnancy centers" that present biased, incomplete medical advice as well as lies about "fetal pain." This is the discredited claim that anti-choice forces across the country are using in their crusade to reduce to 20 the number of weeks of pregnancy during which women can obtain legal abortions.
The new law adds to the information abortion providers must already give under the 1995 Women's Right to Know law.
It could have been worse. The state Senate removed language from a House bill that would have rewritten Louisiana's 2-year-old conscience protection law. This gives health care professionals and pharmacists the right not to provide certain services because of their moral views. The law states that "Any person has the right not to participate in, and no person shall be required to participate in, any health care service that violates his conscience to the extent that patient access to health care is not compromised." The House, with the governor's support, would have ended the sentence at the word "conscience."
It could have been worse still if a bill sponsored by Rep. John LaBruzzo had been approved instead of being sent back to committee where it died for the current legislative session, which adjourned Thursday. LaBruzzo proposed defining a fetus as a person from the moment of conception and would have banned abortion in both rape and incest cases.
As the non-profit Guttmacher Institute has documented, Louisiana is hardly the only state passing new anti-abortion legislation this year. In fact, as shown by the chart above, 2011 has generated a stunning increase in new abortion restrictions at the state level. The laws enacted represent less than 10 percent of more than 900 measures introduced since the beginning of the year. You can see the latest (June 1) update by Guttmacher here and a table of changes for the whole year here.
A partial list of the new laws and those proposed: abortion bans to replace Roe v. Wade introduced in 20 states; requiring abortion providers to have hospital privileges introduced in 11 states (enacted in Indiana and Kansas); targeted regulation of abortion providers introduced in 20 states (enacted in Arkansas, Kansas, Utah and Virginia); ''Choose Life" license plates introduced in nine states (enacted in Texas and Utah); state funding of alternatives-to-abortion services introduced in four states (enacted in Kansas); abortion coverage bans in health plans offered through health exchanges introduced 24 states (enacted in Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma, Utah and Virginia, vetoed in Montana); bans on private insurers' coverage abortions introduced in 15 states (enacted Kansas, Nebraska, Oklahoma and Utah, with a voter initiative on the ballot in Florida); bans or curtailments on public funding of abortions for low-income women introduced in 16 states (enacted in Maryland, vetoed in Minnesota, ballot initiatives approved in Florida and Tennessee); restrictions on late-term abortions introduced in five states (enacted in Kansas); bans on "post-viability" abortions introduced in five states (enacted in Kansas); bans on abortions after a certain gestational age introduced in 17 states (enacted in Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma, vetoed in Minnesota); state-directed counseling introduced in 11 states (enacted in Indiana, Kansas and North Dakota).
In addition, laws were introduced and sometimes passed regarding "fetal pain," waiting periods, medication abortions, parental involvement in abortion decisions of minors, physician liability, physician-only requirements, sex selection by abortion, state employee and facility involvement in abortion, pre-abortion ultrasound requirements and contraception.
Since the June 1 update was published, Alabama has enacted a ban on all abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Florida has placed restrictions on abortion coverage in the federally mandated health exchanges, North Carolina and Texas have placed bans on funds to Planned Parenthood, Tennessee has added fetal homicide to its list of felonies, Washington has decreased the amount of money allocated for family planning services.
And on and on and on and on. In a time of economic and other crises, paying attention to these growing attacks on women's right to choose may seem like a distraction. In fact, reproductive rights are fundamental. Where they are curtailed, women aren't free. Which means nobody is.