Amid Threats to ‘Roe,’ State Lawmakers Push to Protect Access to Abortion Care

“If Roe is reversed, the legality of abortion is left up to the states and, at present, only seventeen states affirmatively protect the right to abortion. That’s why lawmakers are acting now.”

Activists rally outside of the Lincoln Memorial during the #PowertothePolls Women's March on January 20. Lauryn Gutierrez / Rewire

Lawmakers from 25 states and three localities have put forward legislation to protect the fundamental right to abortion care, building on momentum from last year, when an unprecedented number of pro-choice bills were introduced in state legislatures.

There were 645 bills introduced in 2017 that sought to protect access to reproductive health care, a marked increase over the number of pro-choice measures introduced in 2016. Eighty-six of the 2017 bills were passed into law, according to a report by the National Institute for Reproductive Health.

Reproductive rights advocates on Monday commemorated the 45th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v Wade that established legal protections for abortion. As that decision is increasingly under legislative and legal threat by anti-choice politicians, state lawmakers from around the United States have introduced proactive legislation to ensure the procedure will remain legal. 

Jennifer Dalven, director of the the American Civil Liberties Union’s (ACLU) Reproductive Freedom Project, said in a statement that while the Supreme Court’s decision has prohibited lawmakers from banning abortion, it has not prevented them from erecting myriad barriers to the medical procedure. 

President Trump has promised to appoint Supreme Court justices who will overturn Roe, as the administration has already appointed an anti-choice Supreme Court justice and several anti-choice federal circuit court judges.

Gloria Totten, president of the Public Leadership Institute, said in a statement that it is critical for state lawmakers to pass laws that ensure access to abortion care even if the Supreme Court’s conservative majority takes aim at Roe.

“If Roe is reversed, the legality of abortion is left up to the states and, at present, only 17 states affirmatively protect the right to abortion,” Totten said. “That’s why lawmakers are acting now.”

Arizona state Rep. Athena Salman (D-Tempe) is among the lawmakers working to protect access to abortion care; this year, Salman has introduced legislation that would expand access to abortion care by repealing a number of abortion restrictions put into place by Arizona Republicans.

“Every poll has found that about 70 percent of voters believe Roe v. Wade should be upheld,” Salman said. “If the courts won’t do it, we will.”

The Public Leadership Institute is working with policymakers and grassroots organizations across the United States as part of an organizing effort in support of abortion rights in the states and localities. The organization produces model legislation that lawmakers can customize for their particular state laws. In all, there are 29 model bills that focus on expanding or protecting reproductive rights. These pro-choice bills would prohibit reproductive health-care discrimination, provide legal protections for reproductive patients who are harassed by abortion rights foes, eliminate forced waiting periods, and guarantee public and private insurance coverage of abortion care, among other goals. 

“We will do everything in our power to protect a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” Totten said. “This is just the start of our nationwide effort to ensure every woman can access constitutionally-protected medical care.”