Bending Toward Justice: Where reproductive rights are winning

Photo: (Photo by Anthony Pidgeon/Redferns)

This is the third article of a week-long series looking at the legal and political landscape around abortion rights, on the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision Roe v. Wade. Part I was published on Monday. Part II was published on Tuesday. 

More than half of all American women of reproductive age live in states that are hostile to abortion rights. Those states enacted 71 laws in 2017 to restrict access to abortion and other reproductive health measures. That’s the bad news. The good news is that the 31 percent of American women who live in states supportive of reproductive rights saw a steep increase in legislative activity to protect their rights.

Trends in Reproductive Health Policies, 2017

In July, Delaware became the first state in the Trump era to take affirmative steps to protect abortion rights, with a very real threat to Roe v. Wade hanging over all of us. Now, under Delaware law, abortions before a fetus is viable are legal, and abortions after viability are illegal, unless in the doctor’s professional judgment, it is necessary to save the pregnant woman’s life. Delaware thus enshrined Roe by placing Planned Parenthood v. Casey into state law.

Oregon went further. In August, Gov. Kate Brown (who identifies as bisexual) signed into law the Reproductive Health Equity Act, the most comprehensive state law addressing women’s access to reproductive health services, regardless of age, income and citizenship status. Like Delaware, the state of Oregon now unequivocally protects a woman’s right to an abortion before a fetus reaches viability. But that is just the first step. Thanks to the strong advocacy of pro-choice coalitions in the state, health insurers in Oregon now must provide comprehensive women’s health care services — including contraception and abortion — at no cost.

“This is an amazing victory, and it’s all the more significant given the current political landscape,” said Amy Casso, the Gender Justice Program Director for Western States Center at the time of the Brown’s signing. “In the face of relentless rollbacks and attacks at the federal level, Oregonians are showing the rest of the country what it means to be resilient and visionary.”

Another multi-layer, pro-choice coalition helped push a pro-choice bill through the Illinois legislature. HB 40 reinstates Medicaid funding for abortions and permits state workers to use their health insurance to pay for abortions. And like Delaware and Oregon, Illinois law now provides that abortions before viability will be legal, whether or not the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade and its progeny. Illinois Gov. Bruce Rauner is a Republican, and signed the HB40 only after strong advocacy from the pro-choice coalition. Several anti-abortion groups, together with Republican state legislators, sued to stop the bill from taking effect. But their request for an injunction was denied by Illinois Associate Circuit Judge Jennifer Ascher.

States Hostile to Abortion Rights, 2017

Seven other states also have laws on the books that guarantee a woman’s right to an abortion pre-viability: California, Connecticut, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, and Washington.

That map is difficult to swallow. And it will only get worse if the Supreme Court overturns or substantially limits RoeCasey, and Whole Woman’s Health — the three pillars holding up a woman’s constitutional right to terminate her pregnancy.

Tomorrow, we’ll discuss just how close we are to facing that awful reality.