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2021 marked a record-breaking year for new abortion restrictions

2021 marked a record-breaking year for new abortion restrictions

Picture of Madeleine Tibaldi
(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)
(Photo: Saul Loeb/AFP via Getty Images)

While the Supreme Court considers the fate of Roe v. Wade, state legislatures are briskly imposing new restrictions on abortions. 2021 was a landmark year, with the highest number of regulations enacted since the Roe decision in 1973. 

States enacted more 106 abortion restrictions in the first nine months of last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute. It was the first time the organization’s count of such rules reached triple digits.

Consider, for example, a new law in Ohio. It may shutter the only remaining abortion clinic in the southwest corner of the state, denying health care access to hundreds of thousands of women, and open the door to a slew of state bills that disguise the goal of suppressing abortion inside a package that claims to save infant lives.

Ohio Senate Bill 157 requires doctors to resuscitate any fetus born alive after a failed abortion procedure. In reality, failed abortions are rare. And the odds that one will produce a live birth are exceedingly remote, especially in Ohio, where most abortions are legal only until the 22-week gestational mark — before the medically accepted age of fetal viability, 24 weeks. In 2020, failed abortions accounted for less than 0.23% of abortions in the state. All occurred before the 13th week of pregnancy.

Since 2002, federal law has extended legal protections to infants born alive after an unsuccessful abortion attempt. The Ohio legislation takes these requirements further by imposing specific provisions for lifesaving care and felony manslaughter charges for doctors who do not comply. 

Women’s health care providers and activists argue that this bill mischaracterizes the dangers of abortion and purports to address a problem that rarely, if ever, occurs. The law would be more likely to come into play in the heartbreaking situations of planned pregnancies with severe complications, Dr. Erika Boothman, an OB-GYN from Columbus, testified at a legislative hearing on the bill. The law would force doctors to resuscitate a baby with no chance of survival instead of giving parents the choice of having a peaceful, private environment in which to say goodbye.

“Whisking (a) baby away from her mother’s arms immediately after delivery to administer medications, perform chest compressions and attempt to put a breathing tube down a baby’s tiny throat is not what my patients or their newborns need,” Boothman said.

SB 157 also handcuffs abortion providers in another way. Although fewer than 0.5% of abortion patients require hospitalization, Ohio law dictates that abortion clinics must have either a transfer agreement with local hospitals or a partnership with a licensed physician. SB 157 would ban abortion clinics from partnering with any physician affiliated with a state university, public hospital or other publicly funded entity. 

This would sever long-standing ties between abortion providers and university-affiliated  doctors — an outcome at odds with the bill’s stated intent of protecting infants. In an opinion piece in the Cincinnati Enquirer, Lauren Blauvelt- Copelin, vice president of government affairs and public advocacy of Planned Parenthood Ohio, wrote that the law would make it virtually impossible for some abortion providers, including Planned Parenthood Southwest Ohio Region, to meet the requirements for partnerships and transfer agreements.

This bill, signed in December by Gov. Mike DeWine and scheduled to take effect March 23, follows a well-worn playbook, requiring abortion providers to meet medically unnecessary standards in order to remain operational. These laws, known as TRAP — targeted restrictions of abortion providers —  claim to be about safety but impose rules on clinics that are difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Twenty-three states have TRAP laws in place, and 21 of them mandate partnerships with a hospital. TRAP laws in Mississippi, Oklahoma, South Carolina and elsewhere dictate the dimensions of procedure rooms and corridors, require admitting privileges to local hospitals, and increase the difficulty of licensing standards. 

By chipping away at abortion access, these laws make procedures harder to get, not safer. Shutting down clinics is likely to make abortion tourism the new norm and will disproportionately affect low-income women and communities of color. Traveling to another city or state for a procedure requires adequate transportation and financial resources. Even if the Supreme Court upholds Roe v. Wade, state laws like Ohio’s will continue to undermine health care for women and safe, equitable abortion access across the nation.

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