2021 saw a record number of abortion restrictions enacted

While the latest ruling in a US court of appeals has reinstated the near-total ban on abortions in Texas – two days after the restrictive law was challenged by the Biden administration – an analysis found that more than 19 states have also passed 106 new restrictions on abortions. Shefali Luthra, a healthcare reporter for The 19th, an independent newsroom covering gender, politics and policy, joins.

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  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    As the battle over the nation's strictest abortion law continues in Texas, there are also a record number of new abortion restrictions taking effect across the country.

    I spoke with Shefali Luthra, a healthcare reporter for The 19th, an independent, nonprofit newsroom covering gender, politics and policy, about the new laws and about the Texas abortion battle.

    Shefali, we've been hearing a lot about what's happening with the abortion rulings in Texas, but your piece kind of took a bigger picture view and you looked across the country. What did you find?

  • Shefali Luthra:

    This year has seen more abortion restrictions become law than any other year since 1973, which was when Roe v. Wade was decided. 106 restrictions were signed into law over 19 states. It's the first time we've hit three digits ever, which means right limitations on when and how someone can get the two pill regimen, that's one of the easiest ways if you're early in pregnancy to get an abortion.

    That could mean prohibiting those pills from being sent over the mail, requiring someone go in person to the doctor to get the first pill done, even though experts say you can safely do it from home. It might mean instituting special waiting periods for someone who wants a medication abortion, right? You have to wait three days between one visit and the second to even get the pill. It could mean special restrictions on how someone is registered if they want to provide a medication abortion.

    All of these various somewhat insidious restrictions that will just make it harder and harder, in particular for medication abortion to be available.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    What's happening in the states that are say adjacent to Texas or any of the states that are adjacent to some states that have the most restrictive rules coming into place?

  • Shefali Luthra:

    What's adjacent to Texas is, I think, super important and really interesting. The two states that had more restrictions signed into law this year than any other were Arkansas and Oklahoma. Those are two of Texas's neighbors, and they've both reported in their clinics seeing numerous patients coming from Texas to there because they can't get an abortion in Texas and they still need one.

    I talked to a clinic in Oklahoma where they told me they still see 100 Texas patients every week. Right? And now they're facing their own new restrictions. Some of the ones that were signed won't take effect, but many of them will. And if so, that's going to make these places that are a refuge, a place of next resort, equally onerous or almost as onerous as Texas.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    And also places that have these restrictions coming or now have them on the books are there correlations between how many abortions are performed in these states versus the rules that are going into effect.

  • Shefali Luthra:

    These are all generally states that already were really unfriendly to the procedure, right? So 19 states. These are largely Republican led states, right? Republican governors, Republican state legislatures. And they have had a long history right of building up to this moment and what the researcher at Guttmacher, Elizabeth Nash, told me that I think is really smart is that what this shows us is that the Texas law didn't come out of nowhere, right? It came from years and years of states that were already unfriendly to abortion that were already making this procedure harder to obtain, just really doubling down now because they see that they can.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    You know, what's interesting is with a story like yours is you don't realize a national sea change, often because you're in one specific jurisdiction. I'm maybe aware of what's happening in my community, but I'm not thinking about the other forty nine states, so to speak.

  • Shefali Luthra:

    I think that's really important, right? Because this isn't the first time we've seen this intense deluge of abortion restrictions, right? In 2011, we saw a very similar trend, albeit on a much smaller level, right, that that was the biggest year until now. And it was just like this. You don't realize what's happening in California. If you live in Rhode Island, maybe those are bad examples. You don't realize what's happening in Oklahoma if you live in Montana.

    And what happens right is it doesn't become a national story until someone goes from state to state and pieces it all together and realizes these things we thought were happening in a vacuum. They're actually part of a much larger project that is working in concert to change what abortion access looks like in the country.

  • Hari Sreenivasan:

    Shefali Luthra, healthcare reporter for The 19th. Thanks so much for joining us.

  • Shefali Luthra:

    Thank you for having me.

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