A Blow for Women’s Rights

Guest Commentary

Volume CVI, No. 3March, 2006

Jon Platner

On Feb. 22, South Dakota became the first state in 14 years to pass legislation, signed by the governor on March 6, aimed at directly challenging Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide. But signs are already emerging that it won’t be the last.

On Feb. 28, the state House in Mississippi began considering a measure, similar to the one passed just a few days earlier in South Dakota, that would ban nearly all abortions in that state.

And on March 1, a Missouri lawmaker proposed a bill to ban nearly all abortions in his state.

The list goes on. In all, legislators in 11 states — Alabama, Georgia, Indiana, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Tennessee, and West Virginia — have introduced bills this year to ban nearly all abortions. Even in the traditionally pro-choice state of Massachusetts, Governor Mitt Romney — a Republican — announced this month that he would sign a bill outlawing most abortions if it ever reached his desk.

The current wave of state abortion bans is a serious, direct threat to our most basic, fundamental rights — one that has severe repercussions for all Americans.

Sadly, the bans are just one part of an ongoing anti-choice, legislative strategy to deny women their right to determine whether and when to have children. State politicians across the country are creating a gauntlet of legislation to restrict abortion — and women are paying the price with their health and safety.

For example, a number of states currently have laws on the books that force women to receive biased, state-mandated lectures before they get an abortion. These so-called “counseling” requirements can force health care providers to dispense medically inaccurate information to women, such as the suggestion of a link between abortion and breast cancer — a link that has been proven false time and again.

As if the insulting nature of these lectures weren’t bad enough, biased counseling laws are often coupled with mandatory delay requirements, which prohibit women from obtaining abortions until after they’ve waited a certain period of time, anywhere from one to three days. Because many of the same states that enforce these waiting periods have a very limited number of abortion providers, the consequences for women forced to travel long distances can be dire.

In Pennsylvania, just one of several states where these laws are currently in effect, more than 80 percent of counties offer no abortion services at all. Most women must travel a substantial distance just to reach a provider.

Upon arrival at a health center, Pennsylvania women seeking abortion services must listen to a biased, state-mandated lecture. They are then forced to wait at least 24 hours before they can get an abortion.

In Mississippi, where only one abortion provider serves the entire state, one study found that after a 24-hour waiting period was instituted there, second-trimester abortions rose by about 53 percent among women closest to an in-state provider. Women living in the poorest region of the state must drive a good three or four hours to reach the clinic, sometimes sleeping in their cars overnight in the parking lot, even in 100-degree weather, because they can’t afford a motel room. Often, they have their children with them, because they can’t afford child care or find someone to care for their children for two days.

On Feb. 28, Missouri took one step closer to enforcing a mandatory delay requirement when the Missouri Supreme Court upheld a state law imposing a 24-hour waiting period on women seeking abortion. The law had been challenged by Planned Parenthood.

At the state level, more than 850 choice-related bills have been introduced or carried over in the first two months of the 2006 legislative session. While some have been proactive efforts to protect reproductive rights, the majority have been attempts to restrict those rights.

In addition to abortion bans and mandatory delay laws, there have been efforts to shift funding from family planning services to anti-choice “crisis pregnancy centers.” There have also been attempts to allow health care providers to refuse to provide essential reproductive health care services, restrict access to reproductive health care for minors, and target abortion providers with administrative regulations aimed at closing them down.

The onslaught continues, but Planned Parenthood and its pro-choice allies will continue to stand up for those without a voice — those who are most vulnerable in states that are led by anti-choice hardliners.

Jon Platner is managing editor of the Web site of Planned Parenthood,, where this article appeared.