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Record number of abortion restrictions passed in 2021, Guttmacher Institute reports

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Pro-life and pro-choice supporters square off in an argument during a demonstration marking the anniversary of the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade abortion decision in Washington, January 24, 2011. |

A pro-abortion think tank is decrying 2021 as “the worst year” for abortion rights in nearly 50 years as dozens of laws aimed at restricting access to abortion have passed at the state level in 2021. 

The Guttmacher Institute, a pro-choice research organization formerly affiliated with Planned Parenthood, released a report earlier this month titled “State Policy Trends 2021: The Worst Year for Abortion Rights in Almost Half a Century.”

The report is the latest of several Guttmacher Institute publications highlighting the passage of numerous laws at the state level this year, which the organization and other pro-choice advocates characterize as setbacks for abortion rights in the United States.

Authored by policy associate Elizabeth Nash, the report notes that “106 abortion restrictions had been enacted in 19 states” during 2021, marking “the highest total in any year since abortion rights were affirmed by the US Supreme Court in 1973.”

The number of pro-life laws passed in 2021 exceeded the previous record of 89 abortion restrictions enacted in 2011, Nash states. 

In 2021, many states enacted legislation limiting abortions after a certain point in pregnancy, ranging from “heartbeat bills” restricting abortions to the first six weeks of pregnancy to the more traditional “pain-capable” bans on abortions after 20 or 24 weeks gestation.

Additional laws that took effect this year include a ban on abortions of an unborn baby based on a Down syndrome diagnosis and a similar law in Arizona that prohibits abortions of unborn babies who have genetic abnormalities.

Other states took action to liberalize their abortion laws in 2021. Many cited the concern that the U.S. Supreme Court will overturn the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortion nationwide. Earlier this month, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments in a case involving Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban. Abortion advocates fear that a ruling in the case could alter longstanding abortion jurisprudence.

Delaware and New Mexico repealed unenforceable abortion bans passed before Roe. New Jersey and Hawaii repealed laws that required doctors to perform abortions instead of other medical professionals such as physician assistants and nurse practitioners, thereby expanding the pool of people qualified to perform the procedure. Washington state began requiring college health insurance plans that cover maternity care to cover abortions, while Colorado allowed Medicaid to cover the abortions sought by sexual assault survivors. 

But the Guttmacher Institute contends that the number of pro-life laws passed in 2021 far exceeds the number of “abortion protections enacted” (10). A report published by the Guttmacher Institute in October noted that “the state with the most new restrictions is Arkansas (20), followed by Oklahoma (16), then Indiana, Montana and South Dakota (nine each).”

“[T]he damage to abortion rights is profound,” the report reads. “Abortion access is already very limited for many people, including Black and Brown people, low-income individuals, LGBTQ individuals and young people, as well as those living in the South, the Plains and the Midwest. Many states in these regions have enacted bans that violate the US Constitution in the hope that the Supreme Court will soon eliminate federal constitutional protections for abortion.”

Kristan Hawkins, the president of the pro-life campus outreach group Students for Life of America, said in an email to supporters on Christmas Eve that she believes "2022 will blow this past year right out of the water as there is much to do as we prepare for the end of Roe v. Wade on our campuses and in our communities."

"[A]nd you can expect the pro-abortion movement and their allies in government and media are going to try to stop us at every step of the way," she stressed. "But I’m honored to alongside you and the rest of the Pro-Life Generation as we work to become the first Post Roe Generation."

The Supreme Court is scheduled to rule in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization by June. The state of Mississippi is asking the justices to overturn a lower court decision finding that the ban on abortions after 15 weeks gestation violated the U.S. Constitution. Lawyers arguing on behalf of abortion providers and the Biden administration want to see the lower court decision affirmed.

A ruling in favor of Mississippi would significantly weaken the precedent set by Roe and the subsequent decision Planned Parenthood v. Casey. But the central finding of Roe, that a woman has a right to obtain an abortion at some point in her pregnancy, could remain in place.

While the law at the center of the Dobbs case was passed three years ago, another law that took effect this year has also faced legal challenges.

On Sept. 1, Texas’ Heartbeat Act went into effect, banning abortions after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at around six weeks gestation. The law remains in effect as litigation continues.

Other states have sought to implement near-total abortion bans that have not passed muster with the courts in 2021, including Arkansas and Oklahoma.

The abortion ban in Arkansas provides an exception for life endangerment, and the Oklahoma abortion ban has an exception for “serious threats to the patient’s health.”

As the coronavirus pandemic broke out in the U.S., abortion activists pushed for the loosening of the Risk Evaluation and Mitigation Strategies for abortion pills, also known as a chemical or medication abortion.

The REMS previously required women to see a doctor in person before taking the abortion-inducing drugs. The Food and Drug Administration recently eliminated the requirement for chemical abortion to be administered in person, allowing women to obtain abortion drugs by mail.

Eight states worked to counter the federal push to ease safety protocols for chemical abortions by implementing their own restrictions on medication abortions: Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Montana, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Texas.

In addition to the states passing pro-life legislation, 25 cities supported the pro-life movement by declaring themselves “Sanctuary Cities for the Unborn,” bringing the total number of towns outlawing abortion within the city limits to 41.

The Biden administration has worked to reverse many of the Trump administration’s policies related to abortion. 

After taking office in January, President Joe Biden reversed the “Mexico City Policy,” which prevented taxpayer dollars from funding nongovernmental organizations that perform or promote abortions overseas.

The administration rolled back the Trump administration’s “Protect Life” rule that prevented abortion providers from receiving family planning funding under Title X.

Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: ryan.foley@christianpost.com

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