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States are passing fewer abortion restrictions

The recent wave of abortion restrictions appears to be ebbing.

States have passed fewer abortion restrictions during the first half of 2014 than the first half of any of the past three years, according to an analysis by the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank focused on sexual and reproductive health policy. The momentum has slowed, though, not stopped.

Mid-year abortion restrictions. (Guttmacher Institute)
Mid-year abortion restrictions. (Guttmacher Institute)

Thirteen states have adopted 21 abortion restrictions this year, nearly half of the 41 passed by this time last year and about a fourth of the 80 passed in the first half of 2011. The restrictions passed in 2014 include requirements that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals, bans on insurance coverage and limits on medication abortion. Three states bolstered access to abortion services, and four states and D.C. improved access to other reproductive health services.

Part of the reason for the slowdown is cyclical, Guttmacher points out. Some state legislatures have shorter sessions this year, others that have been particularly active — Montana, Nevada, North Dakota and Texas — have none at all. Other pressing issues have taken the spotlight as well, shifting focus away from abortion.

The regulations that affect the most women of reproductive age are so-called Targeted Regulations of Abortion Providers, policies that impose licensing requirements that Guttmacher identifies as being intended merely to shut clinics down. Later this year, Louisiana and Oklahoma will become the sixth and seventh states with active laws requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital, one such type of TRAP policy. And Arizona and Indiana gave their state health agencies the authority to conduct unannounced inspections. Some 26 states have such TRAP laws, up from 11 in 2000.

TRAP abortion laws. (Guttmacher Institute)
TRAP abortion laws. (Guttmacher Institute)

This year, Mississippi enacted a late-abortion ban, while Oklahoma restricted medication abortion. Georgia limited insurance coverage in policies sold through insurance exchanges created through the Affordable Care Act, while Indiana expanded a similar restriction. South Dakota became the seventh state to ban abortion for the purposes of sex selection. Eight states expanded rules around counseling requirements, waiting periods, parental consent, Medicaid funding, gestational limits and provider refusal.

New Hampshire, Utah and Vermont expanded abortion rights. New Hampshire did so by establishing a buffer zone, though the Supreme Court recently struck down such policies. Utah allowed women seeking an abortion due to fetal impairment to waive a counseling requirement. And Vermont repealed an abortion ban passed before the Roe v. Wade decision, ensuring access to abortions even if that decision were to be overturned.

Connecticut, Maryland, New Mexico, South Carolina and D.C. expanded access to other sexual and reproductive health services.

Niraj Chokshi is a general assignment reporter for The Washington Post.

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