State legislatures enacted fewer restrictions on abortion during 2014 than in the previous year, but that downward trend is unlikely to continue in the new year, according to an analysis from the Guttmacher Institute.
In 2014, state legislatures enacted only 26 of the 341 abortion restrictions introduced. And the total number of laws was down sharply from the 70 provisions enacted in 2013. The new laws included new counseling requirements before an abortion, longer waiting periods, second trimester abortion bans, and parental consent requirements.
But Elizabeth Nash, the senior state issues associate at the Guttmacher Institute, said the number of restrictive laws only looks small in comparision to the spike in legislative activity over the last 4 years, during which states enacted 231 laws limiting access to abortion.
“The scale has changed somewhat,” she said.
Some state legislatures that have been actively targeting abortion access, such as Texas, did not meet in 2014, and others had shortened sessions.
This year could bring more abortion restrictions, Ms. Nash said, as more Republican governors and state legislators take office. In 23 states, Republicans now control both legislative chambers and the governor’s office. An expected debate at the federal level on a 20-week abortion ban could also drive activity at the state level, she said.
For those states that do pursue abortion legislation in 2015, Ms. Nash said she expects them to build on existing restrictions, such as extending the waiting period between mandated counseling and an abortion.
“States will look at existing restrictions and try to make them more burdensome,” she said.
In 2014, Oklahoma enacted a requirement that abortion counseling include information on the availability perinatal hospice when a woman is seeking an abortion because of a fetal abnormality. In Alabama, lawmakers extended the waiting period between counseling and obtaining an abortion from 24 to 48 hours. Meanwhile, Mississippi lawmakers banned abortion at 18 weeks post-fertilization, citing fetal pain.
But other states took action to protect access to abortion in 2014. Following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down a Massachusetts law providing a 35-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics, that state’s lawmakers enacted a new law establishing a 25-foot buffer zone for up to 8 hours after a police officer issues a dispersal order. Similarly, New Hampshire set a 25-foot buffer zone around abortion clinics. And in Utah, the legislature waived some counseling requirements in cases in which a woman is obtaining an abortion because of a diagnosed fetal impairment.