Abortion rights in the United States are under attack. Anti-choice lawmakers have been introducing restrictions at a record pace this year, ranging from unconstitutional measures banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected to so-called "trigger laws" that would make abortion illegal in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned.
But simultaneously, another trend has emerged: Reproductive health advocates and pro-choice lawmakers are pushing measures and taking executive action to protect access to abortion care at the state level. From New York to Arizona to Illinois, states are expanding access to abortion services, repealing restrictions, and updating their codes to do away with decades-old measures that are not currently enforced.
"Bills have been introduced for a number of years to protect abortion rights, but they hadn’t been able to break through and get legislative attention," Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute, told Refinery29. "[That this is happening now] is exciting because it's a real opportunity to put in place protections so that people can make the best decisions for themselves should they be in this situation."
In the last month alone, Vermont lawmakers passed a constitutional amendment to ensure abortion rights are guaranteed; a bill requiring Maine’s Medicaid program and private insurance companies to cover abortion care was approved by the state House; and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a bill requiring doctors to falsely tell women that the so-called "abortion pill" can be reversed.
The Maine measure, known as L.D. 820, was sponsored by state Rep. Joyce McCreight. This effort to expand coverage for abortion care also includes exemptions for religious employers and to protect federal funds. For McCreight, it boils down to allowing women and their health providers to make these decisions without outside intervention. "A woman should be able to make her own decision about pregnancy without insurance companies or a few politicians withholding healthcare resources to those who qualify," McCreight told Refinery29. "When it comes to the most important decisions in life, such as whether to become a parent, it is vital that a woman is able to consider all the options available to her; the amount she earns or whether she is insured should not be a factor."
These actions follow similar efforts to increase access to abortion care, like New York's Reproductive Health Act, which decriminalized abortion and allowed for pregnancies to be terminated after 24 weeks in cases of fetal abnormalities or when the woman's life is in danger. In Illinois, lawmakers are attempting to repeal several decades-old measures, including a 44-year-old dormant law that criminalizes abortion providers and allows husbands to obtain an injunction to block their partners from seeking an abortion.
Nash said one of the reasons for these pro-choice moves is that the compositions of state legislatures have significantly changed in the last couple of years. "Back in November 2010, we had an election that really moved a lot of state legislatures and governors to the right or further to the right. Only now are we really seeing some shifting either to the center or left," she said. "You look at a state like Nevada, where now the composition is such that not only are there more moderates and progressives in control, but women are leading the way."
The push for expanding abortion rights is happening as anti-choice advocates have aggressively tried to curtail access. In the first three months of 2019, anti-choice lawmakers in 41 states introduced over 250 bills restricting access to abortion care. Most of them feel emboldened by the current administration because both President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence have promised to overturn Roe v. Wade. And since the balance of the U.S. Supreme Court has been officially cemented to the right, these politicians are rapidly introducing anti-choice legislation with the hopes of it bringing the legal challenge that makes abortion illegal in the United States once again.
These opposing trends will likely continue to reshape the landscape of abortion access in the nation in the coming years. The idea of where you live determining whether you can obtain an abortion is not new. In fact, abortion deserts — places where people have to travel 100 miles or more to access care — are prevalent in all regions of the U.S. except the Northeast. "For so long, we've already seen restriction after restriction become law, primarily in the South, the Midwest, and the Plains states," Nash said. "It’s hard to access abortion services and keep the clinics' doors open, which is different from the states that have protected access in the West and Northeast. We have this divide in access, and a lot of it is based in the law."