Nearly 400 Anti-Abortion Bills Were Introduced Last Year

States passed nearly as many anti-abortion laws over the past five years as in the entire 15 years prior

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Anti-Abortion Laws; 2015; 57 passed
Anti-abortion activists rally to oppose federal funding for Planned Parenthood in front of the U.S. Capitol in July. Olivier Douliery/Getty

State legislatures around the country last year passed dozens of anti-abortion laws, and considered hundreds of others, according to an analysis by a leading reproductive rights research group.

The Guttmacher Institute found that, all told, 17 states enacted 57 anti-abortion laws in 2015. But lawmakers in nearly every state in the nation – all but four – considered passing at least one anti-abortion law last year. A total of 396 anti-abortion laws were considered.

In its annual policy roundup, Guttmacher put those numbers into a political context: "Including the 57 abortion restrictions enacted in 2015, states have adopted 288 abortion restrictions just since the 2010 midterm elections swept abortion opponents into power in state capitals across the country.... [S]tates adopted nearly as many abortion restrictions during the last five years (288 enacted 2011–2015) as during the entire previous 15 years (292 enacted 1995–2010)."

Driven in part by the efforts of anti-choice groups like Americans United for Life, which writes model legislation frequently used by lawmakers around the country, trends often emerge in anti-abortion laws: In any given year, a certain type of legislation – often the bills are similarly worded – will suddenly pop up in state legislatures around the country. In 2015, the anti-abortion bills most frequently passed by state lawmakers focused on mandating counseling and waiting periods for individuals seeking abortions, and restricting access to medication abortion (as opposed to surgical abortion) and abortions after the first trimester. In addition, a number of states passed so-called TRAP, or targeted regulation of abortion providers, laws – which make it more difficult for doctors who provide abortions to do their job by subjecting them to onerous and medically unnecessary rules.

One could also see the effect of the Planned Parenthood sting videos, and the subsequent attacks on the organization by Republican lawmakers and presidential candidates, in state legislative trends: 10 states introduced legislation regarding fetal tissue donation and research last year.

Though the vast majority of the abortion-related laws considered in state legislatures in 2015 were focused on restricting access, Guttmacher notes that there were also a number of laws passed to expand reproductive and sexual rights. For instance, Oregon became the first state to allow individuals to buy prescription forms of birth control over-the-counter.

Without yet knowing how many anti-abortion laws will be considered this year, we already know 2016 will be significant in the ongoing battle for reproductive rights, as the Supreme Court prepares to rule on a Texas abortion access case that could have broad implications for millions of Americans, as well as an important case regarding birth control access for employees of religious non-profits.

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