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Abortion Restrictions May Hurt Women's Health, Create Legal Battles

by Glen Luke Flanagan, published

Wisconsin abortion restrictions Henryk Sadura /

New abortion laws have caused more than 50 abortion clinics throughout the country to close or stop offering the procedure since 2010, according to The Huffington Post. A Wisconsin law passed earlier this year is fairly typical of the trend, requiring women to view ultrasound results before allowing them abortions.

Similar laws include one in North Dakota (outlawing abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy) and one in Arkansas (banning abortions after 12 weeks).

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker (R) claimed the new restrictions would help women make more informed choices.

"This bill improves a woman's ability to make an informed choice that will protect her mental health now and in the future," he said.

Elizabeth Nash, states issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, disagreed.

"These laws do nothing to protect women's health or improve the quality of abortion care," she said.

As an example, she pointed out that nine states have enacted laws requiring abortion providers to have hospital admitting privileges (though not all of these laws are currently in effect).

"In general, admitting privileges are an economic relationship between a provider and a hospital to assure a supply of patients to a hospital," she explained. "It is common for the privilege agreement to require that the provider admit a certain number of patients a year, something that is very rare in abortion care given that abortion is a very safe procedure with less than 0.5 percent of abortions resulting in complications that require hospitalization."

She went on to say that in the "unlikely event" of an emergency, every hospital would be required to treat the patient, who may be "closer to a different hospital than the one that has entered into the agreement with the provider."

While the laws won't create healthier abortion conditions, they may cause problems for women in need of the procedure, Nash worried.

"Clinics may close as a result of new, overly-burdensome clinic regulations or hospital admitting privilege requirements," she said. "Providers may not be able to offer medication abortion as a method of early abortion, and women face the prospect of lengthy waiting periods before obtaining an abortion, limits on abortion coverage in health plans, and inaccurate and misleading information in abortion counseling."

On top of health and availability issues, new laws may raise financial concerns as well. Idaho recently shelled out $376,000 of taxpayers' money after a woman sued the state when she was charged with having an illegal abortion, according to the Associated Press.

With the national trend toward states restricting abortions, one might assume there is a strong anti-abortion sentiment among the general populous -- but data from Gallup shows that's not the case.

Twenty-six percent of Americans favor legalizing abortion under all circumstances and 13 percent feel it should be legal in most circumstances. Thirty-eight percent want it legalized only in a few circumstances, while 20 percent want it to be entirely illegal.

Regardless of whether they support or oppose abortion, however, many Americans view it as a moral issue, according to a survey by the Pew Research Center. The Pew data showed a stronger anti-abortion skew than the Gallup numbers, with 46 percent of respondents saying abortion is morally wrong, 15 percent saying it's morally acceptable, and 23 percent saying it's not a moral issue.

It's worth noting a difference in phrasing between the surveys: Gallup asked about legality, while Pew asked about morality. Gallup may also have provided more nuanced options by allowing respondents choices such as "in all cases," "in some cases," and "never."

The new restrictions aren't getting by without a fight, either. Shortly after Walker signed the Wisconsin bill into law, a federal judge put a 10-day freeze on it. Another federal judge recently ruled that Mississippi could not shut down the only functioning abortion clinic in the state while the clinic has a lawsuit pending (which will go to trial next spring).

But, Nash was not hopeful on that score.

"While abortion supporters have had some success in the courts, so many restrictions have been enacted in the past three years that it is impossible to challenge them all," she said.

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