State Reproductive Health Policy at Midyear


Through June 30, reproductive health advocates at the state level made significant progress in two areas: better access to emergency contraception for women who have been raped and comprehensive, medically accurate sex education in schools that includes discussion of contraception as well as abstinence. So far this year, measures to help a rape victim access emergency contraception have been enacted in five states. New laws enacted in Arkansas and Colorado require hospitals to give rape victims information about emergency contraception. Measures in Connecticut, Minnesota and Oregon go further by also requiring hospitals to dispense the medication if requested. Including these new laws, four states now require the provision of information only and nine states require the provision of both information and the medication on request.

Meanwhile, Colorado and Washington enacted new laws this year that require discussion of both abstinence and contraception in school sex education classes, bringing to 15 the number of states with such policies. These new laws, along with a third enacted in Iowa, require that all information provided in sex education classes be medically accurate. (See note below.)

In addition to these successes, reproductive rights supporters also largely held the line in the fight against state abortion bans. Of the 27 bills that were introduced in 16 states this year, only two were enacted: in Mississippi and North Dakota. These bans, which would take effect only if Roe v. Wade is overturned, bring to four the number of states with such a policy. With no additional abortion ban proposals pending in any of the legislatures remaining in session, the issue appears dead for the legislative year.

Finally, the Supreme Court's Gonzales v. Carhart decision in April to uphold the constitutionality of the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act ignited an immediate flurry of judicial and legislative action, with federal courts re-examining previously enjoined bans in several states. Shortly after the decision was handed down, the injunction was lifted against Utah's law, whose description of the banned procedure is basically in keeping with that in the federal law; like the federal law, the Utah measure also has no health exception. Courts are currently considering lifting injunctions against bans in Missouri and Virginia; the language of these laws is also similar to that of the federal ban. On the flip side, a federal judge upheld the injunction against Michigan's "partial-birth" abortion ban on the grounds that it could have prohibited other common abortion procedures. Currently, 31 states have "partial-birth" abortion bans on the books, although laws are in effect in only five. The extent to which Gonzales v. Carhart will clear the way for judicial implementation in any of the remaining 26 states is yet to be determined. (See note below.)

Meanwhile, although the Supreme Court's decision in Gonzales v. Carhart came late in the state legislative season, it also had an immediate impact on legislators; within days, legislators in two states introduced three bills to ban "partial-birth" abortion, with definitions of the procedure largely in line with that of the federal ban but with more severe penalties. So far this year, legislators in nine states have introduced 14 bills. Of these, the measure in Louisiana is the only one to have reached a governor's desk and likely will remain the only one to be enacted this year. In the remaining states, either the legislature has adjourned for the year or the provision has failed to progress beyond the committee level. Clearly, however, this is an area ripe for legislative action next year.

Note to Readers: Two new laws that might endanger reproductive health and choice have been enacted since we completed our above analysis of legislative trends for the first half of the year. In Missouri, a new law removed the requirement for comprehensive sex education by allowing abstinence-only education. And in Louisiana, a new law similar to the recently upheld Federal Abortion Ban now prohibits "partial-birth" abortion.

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