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04.30.04
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Politics of Choice
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abortion Reproductive Health Legislation

As the recent Partial-Birth Abortion Bill and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act came before Congress, states continued to evaluate legislation on similar issues. Hundreds of reproductive health measures were considered by state legislatures in 2003 alone.

If the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade is ever overturned, the issue of abortion legality could go back to the states to decide. As a result, both sides of the abortion debate have a stake in the decisions of state legislatures. Below, read about some recent developments on the state level. You can also track these issues on the Web sites of state legislatures. To find out more about reproductive health, consult our state map of resource links on women's health.

Government involvement in reproductive health issues ranges from state-level legislation to far-reaching federal policy that affects the international community. The White House Mexico City Policy -- the so-called global gag rule -- requires nongovernmental organizations that receive U.S. funding to agree that they will neither perform nor actively promote abortion as a method of family planning in other nations. For more information on this and the other legal issues discussed in NOW's May 2003 segment "The Politics of Choice," read the transcript. You can also visit the National Right-to-Life Committee and the National Abortion-Rights League.

More about recent and pending legislation on the state level below.

  • Alabama In 2002, Alabama enacted a 24-hour waiting period before a woman is eligible for an abortion. Counseling must be done in person or by certified mail, in which case a physician must have the signed receipt of certified mail at least 24 hours before the surgery. In addition, the woman may sue the physician for "wrongful death" of the fetus if the physician fails to adhere to the law including technical requirements, such as retaining all related documents, including the certified mail receipt, for at least four years after the procedure. See more at the Alabama legislature Web site.

  • Arizona In 2002, the Arizona state legislature passed a law mandating health insurance plans that cover prescription drugs to also cover contraceptive drugs and devices that have been approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Recently, the Governor vetoed a bill that would have amended the contraceptive equity law to substantially broaden the range of employers able to claim a religious exemption. Arizona is one of twenty-one states that have passed comprehensive laws or regulations regarding equitable insurance coverage for contraception. So far in 2004, seventeen more states are considering bills on this issue.

  • California In 2002, the California legislature passed a law that mandates that all obstetrics and gynecology residency programs provide abortion training, with certain exceptions for individuals and institutions for moral or religious reasons. In addition, California expanded protections for reproductive health care providers and patients from threats and violence; and established a confidentiality program that withholds providers' and patients' personal info from public records. Also, a 2002 policy requires hospitals to provide women who have been raped with information about emergency contraception and to dispense the drug on request.

  • Florida The nation's first "Choose Life" specialty license plates became available in the state of Florida in 1999. Since then, "Choose Life" legislation has been raised in many other states, not without controversy. The American Civil Liberties Union and others see this type of legislation as a free speech issue. These groups argue that the plates are unconstitutional since they are state-sponsored, and endorse only one side in the abortion debate. In addition, the legislation in most states, including Florida, provides that the proceeds from plate sales go to organizations that counsel pregnant women about their options, excluding abortion. Those that support "Choose Life" legislation argue that these license plates are no more political than other specialty plates, such as those bearing state mottos. When Florida's Governor Jeb Bush signed the Florida plates into law, he said, "It's a pretty tag and it says 'Choose Life' and it's for adoption. If people want to politicize that, they'll politicize anything." Find out more at the Florida legislature Web site.

  • Iowa The Iowa legislature enacted a ban in 2002 on reproductive cloning and so-called therapeutic cloning used for the production of stem cells. A new bill in Iowa would require a woman to obtain permission from a judge before getting an abortion, allowing no exception for the health of the woman.

  • Michigan Michigan's restriction on the use of state funds for abortion-related services was updated in 2002 with a new system for the distribution of state and federal funds that gives priority to organizations that agree not to perform or provide referrals for abortion.

    Last year, the Michigan legislature passed the Legal Birth Definition Act that would define the moment a person is born. State Senator Michelle McManus, the bill's sponsor, initiated the bill to "provide much-needed protection and dignity to our society's newest and most vulnerable members." Opponents argue that "with its vague wording, may ban even the safest and most common abortions performed early in pregnancy." Although the bill was vetoed by Governor Jennifer Granholm, it may become law by a rarely used citizen's intiative, the so-called "People’s Override Petition Drive."

  • Mississippi Mississippi law prohibits public institutions or employees from using federal, state, and local public funds in any way for abortions, except in cases of life endangerment, rape, incest or a fetal abnormality that would prevent a live birth. Read more from the Mississippi legislature.

  • New York In 2003, legislation was introduced in the New York Senate that would enable women to obtain emergency contraception (EC) directly from pharmacists without an individual prescription from a physician. The measure did not pass. However, the State Senate did enact a bill requiring hospitals to provide information on EC and, upon request of a rape survivor, offer EC to such survivors during emergency treatment.

  • South Dakota In March 2004, the South Dakota legislature fell one vote short of enacting a portion of legislation on abortion. In "Marching for their Lives," an article on Salon.com, Lisa Chamberlain describes the bill as "a sweeping anti-abortion law that would have outlawed the procedure entirely at any stage of pregnancy with the only exception being that of saving the woman's life." The bill also would have impose a prison sentence of up to 15 years. Chamberlain posits that because the vote was so close, the South Dakota Legislature is likely to consider outright abortion legislation again.

  • Pennsylvania In 2002, the Pennsylvania General Assembly passed a new law prohibiting the use of state funds for abortion-related activities and requiring that projects supported by state family planning funds be physically and financially separate from any organization's abortion-related activities, with specified exceptions.

  • Wisconsin The Wisconsin State Legislature introduced two bills in 2003, one in each House, that prohibit any organization which receives family planning funds from promoting, encouraging, counseling on, acting to increase the availability or accessibility of abortion services, lobbying, providing speakers, paying dues to a group or using legal action to advocate for "abortion as a method of family planning," or developing or disseminating materials about abortion services. The bills failed to pass into law.




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