Advancing Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights

Laws Affecting Reproductive Health and Rights:
Trends in the First Quarter in 2009


By the end of March, 704 measures had been introduced in the 49 legislatures that have convened so far this year; Louisiana’s legislature convenes in late April.

To date, 11 new laws have been enacted in five states. One allows the provision of STI treatment for a patient’s partner (Utah), while two increase access to emergency contraception (Utah and Virginia). The remaining eight laws are all related to abortion; they:

  • ban “partial-birth” abortion (Arkansas);
  • restrict postviability abortions (Utah);
  • require abortion clinics to post signs about coercion (Kansas and Ohio) or to inform        women about the possibility that a fetus can feel pain (Utah);
  • require providers to give women a list of organizations that would provide a free ultrasound and offer them the opportunity to view the image if an ultrasound is performed in preparation for an abortion (Kansas);
  • authorize funding for crisis pregnancy centers from the sale of “Choose Life” license plates (Virginia); and
  • create a fund to cover the state’s abortion litigation costs (Utah).

With the legislative year well underway, some interesting trends are beginning to emerge.


Establishing Fetal Personhood

Legislators in six states (Alabama, Georgia, Maryland, Montana, North Dakota and South Carolina) have introduced measures similar to one that was soundly defeated by voters in Colorado last year that would have declared a fetus a person from the moment of conception. This strategy is being pursued by an emerging far-right wing of the anti-abortion movement, in explicit rejection of what is perceived as a willingness on the part of some mainstream organizations to push for restrictions that would reduce abortion rather than ban it entirely.

[Note: The measures in Alabama, Maryland and South Carolina are still pending, while those in Montana and North Dakota were each passed by one chamber of the legislature but then defeated in the second chamber; the Georgia legislature adjourned for the year without taking any action on its bill.]

Although they all seek a similar end, the measures would take different routes to achieving their goal. The bills introduced in Georgia, Montana and Maryland would put a measure on the ballot in 2010 to establish fetal personhood, while those in Alabama, North Dakota and South Carolina would formally interpret existing state statutory or constitutional provisions to extend personhood to a fetus. The wording of the measures differs slightly as well. The bills in Alabama, Georgia and South Carolina would define a fetus as a person from the “moment of fertilization.” The Maryland and Montana bills would apply to a fetus at “any stage of human biological development,” and the North Dakota bill would apply to “any organism… that possesses the human genome.” Nonetheless, all of the measures would affect contraception as well as abortion.


Mandating Medically Accurate Sex Education

Thirty-six bills have been introduced so far this year in 20 states that would require medical accuracy in school sex education. (In 2008, 20 such measures were introduced in 12 states.)


Measures have already been approved by a legislative chamber in Hawaii and Oregon. A bill approved by the Hawaii Senate in February would require that all sex education in the state include information on both abstinence and contraception and be medically accurate and age-appropriate. The legislation specifies that the instruction would have to be in accordance with “accepted scientific methods and recognized as accurate and objective by professional organizations and agencies with expertise in the relevant field, such as the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the American Public Health Association, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists.” The measure approved by the Oregon House in March would codify existing state regulations requiring that sex education be medically accurate. It would also replace the regulations’ mandate that abstinence be described as “the most safe and responsible sexual behavior” for unmarried individuals with a requirement to teach abstinence as “the most effective method” of pregnancy and STI prevention for monogamous adults.

Twelve states currently require that the information provided in sex education classes be medically accurate. In 10 of these states (California, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Oregon, Rhode Island, Utah and Washington), the mandate applies to all sex education in the state. In two states (Alabama and North Carolina), the requirement applies only to the information provided about contraception.


Treating Partners for STIs

In 2006, the CDC recommended that health care providers treating patients for chlamydia and gonorrhea also provide treatment for the patient’s partner, even if he or she has not been seen by the provider. Between 2006 and 2008, six states (Arizona, California, Iowa, Louisiana, Minnesota and New York) have adopted laws, and three states (New Mexico, North Dakota and Tennessee) have promulgated regulations to allow partner treatment. This year, similar measures have been introduced in eight states (Illinois, Missouri, Montana, Nevada, Oregon, North Dakota, Utah and Vermont); the Utah measure was enacted.


Bills pending in three states (North Dakota, Nevada and Oregon) would allow partner treatment for all STIs, while those in three others (Illinois, Missouri and Montana) would apply to treatment for chlamydia and gonorrhea; the bill pending in Vermont would apply only to chlamydia treatment. The new Utah statute applies to chlamydia and gonorrhea, bringing to 10 the number of states explicitly permitting partner treatment for at least some STIs.


Production of State Quarterly Trends is made possible in part by support from The John Merck Fund.