On Tuesday, North Dakota passed the country's most restrictive abortion law, barring all abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The law came on the heels of a similar restriction in Arkansas, which outlawed abortion after 12 weeks. With these more restrictive laws popping up across the country, Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richard expects a Supreme Court case in the future — and sees a few reasons to worry. We spoke Tuesday about the legal landscape facing abortion rights, what to expect next and what a Supreme Court decision would mean.
Sarah Kliff: Tell me a bit about what the restrictions we're seeing out of North Dakota mean. What does it say about the state of abortion rights in 2013?
Cecile Richards: I'd say that North Dakota is now the most unsafe state in the nation. Their governor has become the poster child for the most anti-woman [legislation] in the country. He has effectively banned access to safe and legal abortion. The bill is not only outrageous but unconstitutional. As a health-care provider, we know the impact it has on women to no longer have access to legal abortion. Lives are being put in jeopardy.
SK: This North Dakota law comes right after another really restrictive law in Arkansas. Are these becoming a trend? Are you expecting more restrictions like these?
CR: What we’re seeing is a couple of states where the most extreme right fringe has taken over these state legislatures. You have a state like North Dakota where the governor has now chosen to side with the extreme right wing over [the state's] women.
These two states are outliers, but it is chilling to think that for women in America, your rights now depend on your Zip code. I'm hearing lots of outrage over the airwaves from women and men across the country, that this could happen in 2013.
SK: Do you expect other states to pursue similar legislation?
CR: It’s already happening. We’ve got 42 states that have introduced legislation to reduce access to reproductive health care. It's not only access to legal abortion but also access to a wide array of health care. Even in North Dakota, it's not just [the six-week law], but they also passed a law to put a personhood amendment on the ballot. It’s interesting we're seeing this after a neighboring state [South Dakota] did the same thing not so long ago, and yet was soundly defeated.
SK: Obviously these laws are getting enough traction in states to pass. What's a group like Planned Parenthood do, in terms of mobilizing and stopping other laws from taking effect?
CR: We have been organizing our 7 million supporters. There have been a series of activities, especially in Arkansas. In North Dakota you even have Republicans and doctors speaking about about the extreme nature of the legislation.
SK: What would it mean if one of these bans went to the Supreme Court?
CR: I assume something will [go to the Supreme Court]. I hope the Supreme Court will honor judicial precedent, that this is a right women and men have had for 40 years and won't let it [be taken] away.