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NEWS IN CONTEXT

State Legislative Trends in 2007

March 13, 2008

Over the course of 2007, legislators in the 50 states considered more than 1,000 proposals concerning reproductive health and rights. These proposals resulted in 88 new laws in 38 states. While legislative activity about abortion was split between provisions to restrict or protect abortion rights, most of the activity around contraception and prevention was aimed at expanding access to reproductive health services.

Some of the more important legislative actions are presented below (a more extensive overview can be found here).

Legislation that expands access to reproductive health services and information:

  • Abortion access: Three states took steps in 2007 to protect or expand access to abortion. Massachusetts increased the required “buffer zone” shielding abortion clinic staff and patients from protestors. Colorado and Montana have similar protections (see Protecting Access to Clinics). Also, Michigan and New Jersey expanded private insurance coverage for abortion services for public employees.
  • Emergency contraception: Arkansas, Colorado, Connecticut, Minnesota and Oregon enacted new laws requiring hospitals to provide information on emergency contraception to women who have been sexually assaulted; there are now 14 states that require hospitals to provide emergency contraception information (see Emergency Contraception). The new laws in Connecticut, Minnesota and Oregon also require the hospital to provide the medication, if requested by the woman. With these new laws, 10 states require hospitals to provide emergency contraception upon request to victims of sexual assault.
  • Medicaid family planning expansion: In Virginia and Wisconsin, the legislature directed the state to further expand eligibility for Medicaid family planning services to women with an income up to 200% of poverty. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services approved both of these proposals, along with a third from Pennsylvania to extend coverage to women with an income up to 185% of poverty. This brings to 20 the number of states with income-based Medicaid family planning expansions and to 26 the total number of states with any type of expansion (see State Medicaid Family Planning Eligibility Expansions).
  • Comprehensive sex education: Three states took steps in 2007 to improve access to comprehensive sex education. New laws in Colorado and Washington require that any sex education offered in public schools include instruction on contraception as well as abstinence. Fourteen states now require that contraception be included in sex education courses (see Sex and STI/HIV Education). Moreover, the new laws in Colorado and Washington, as well as one in Iowa, require that all sex education instruction be medically accurate.

Legislation that restricts access to reproductive health services and information:

  • Abortion bans: In the most dramatic attempt to restrict abortion rights, legislators in 12 states introduced measures to ban abortion. By year’s end, however, only Mississippi and North Dakota had enacted new laws. These bans would go into effect immediately in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned. This brings to four the number of states with such provisions (see Abortion Policy in the Absence of Roe).
  • “Partial-birth” abortion: While the Supreme Court’s April decision in Gonzales v. Carhart, which upheld a federal ban on “partial-birth” abortion, may lead to an increase in similar state legislation in the future, Louisiana was alone in adopting a provision in 2007. By enacting a law that is nearly identical in scope to the federal ban, Louisiana became one of 14 states with such a ban in effect (see Bans on “Partial-Birth” Abortion).
  • Informed consent: Several states adopted provisions related to the information a woman must receive prior to having an abortion. A new law in Arkansas requires a provider to ensure that the woman’s consent to the abortion is voluntary and not the result of coercion; it is the eighth state to adopt such a requirement (see Mandatory Counseling and Waiting Periods for Abortion). A law adopted in Louisiana requires that women seeking an abortion be informed that the fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks’ gestation, although experts differ over whether that is in fact the case. The Louisiana law also requires that the woman be told about the availability of anesthesia for the fetus; eight states now have counseling provisions on fetal pain.
  • Ultrasound: Laws adopted in four states include provisions related to ultrasound (see Requirements for Ultrasound). A new law in Mississippi requires every woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound and be given the opportunity to view the image. New measures in Georgia and Idaho do not require all women to undergo an ultrasound, but instead mandate that women be given the opportunity to see the image if the procedure is performed as part of the preparation for an abortion. Finally, a new Louisiana law requires that women be told of the availability of ultrasound services as part of abortion counseling. The state already requires abortion providers to perform an ultrasound on every woman seeking an abortion.
  • Abstinence-only: Since 1999, Missouri had required information on abstinence and contraception in sex education programs; it had also required that any instruction provided be medically accurate. A measure adopted in 2007 permits abstinence-only education that meets the federal eight-point definition, which asserts, among other things, that “sexual activity outside the context of marriage is likely to have harmful psychological and physical side effects.”