Opinion: State by state, abortion laws control women in the guise of protecting them


It’s become a tiresome, fill-in-the-blank news story: “The conservative-dominated state legislature in voted to restrict women’s access to abortion by doing , insisting it’s for women’s safety and health.”

The North Carolina Legislature’s lower house just voted to join several other states to triple the length of the waiting period for women who seek abortions, from one day to three, and to require that doctors send to the state health department the ultrasound results, fetal measurements and other medical information related to women who get abortions in the last two weeks of the legal time period. If it becomes law, that rule, designed to make sure the timing of the abortion is within the limit, is so nakedly intrusive that it might as well be wearing a “Sue Me, I’m Unconstitutional” sign.

South Dakota upped the waiting-period ante by excluding weekends, federal and state holidays from its three-day requirement. Meaning what, women can’t think on weekends and holidays? (In fairness, in South Dakota you have to wait five days to be issued a temporary concealed-weapons permit, apparently not excluding weekends and holidays.)

In Oklahoma, whose legislature just sent a 72-hour waiting period bill to the governor, a state senator told his colleagues that if his religion did not prohibit suicide, he would walk to the state Supreme Court, “douse myself in gasoline and set myself on fire to protest” legal abortion.


One Texas legislator wants to extend the state’s ban on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation to include fetuses with severe genetic abnormalities, and another wants to prohibit even private health insurers in Texas from covering abortions except as medical emergencies. This would be on top of Texas’ over-the-top requirement that abortion facilities meet several criteria that have nothing to do with providing safe abortion services and everything to do with forcing the providers out of business. Since that law passed, at least half have closed.

Likewise, Tennessee legislators OK’d a bill requiring its seven abortion facilities to be licensed as ambulatory surgical treatment centers, potentially putting them out of business too -- for the good of the state’s women, of course, though the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists calls such rules “medically unnecessary.”

Florida, whose state House adjourned in frustration three days early, deadlocked over Medicare and other matters, still managed to chew up time to pass a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period between doctor visits, added to the already-mandated ultrasound to get an abortion in the Sunshine State.

And Arizona, in its race to the fringes of science, will force doctors who perform drug-induced abortions to tell women the procedure can be reversible, which most physicians say is medical malarkey.

I’m waiting for more sinister and macabre bills to emerge, maybe one requiring pregnant women to fill out death certificates for their fetuses before having an abortion. Not yet, not so far, but Kentucky’s Senate approved a law that not only requires an ultrasound for women seeking an abortion, but fines a doctor $100,000 if it doesn’t happen. The doctor is supposed to show the image to his patients. But the bill generously does not “prevent a pregnant woman from averting her eyes.” What’s the alternative, a head clamp?

None of these laws is really about women’s health. Legal abortion is safer than any number of other surgeries; a UC San Francisco study found fewer complications for abortions than for getting wisdom teeth pulled.


If legislators were sincere about safeguarding women’s health, the bills getting passed would be about better sex education, more and cheaper health clinics and counseling and contraceptives, so abortion could become what President Clinton once characterized as “safe, legal and rare.” Instead, it’s about preventing women from getting abortions, and controlling them by controlling their fertility, a trick as old as men and women.

There’s one other state that’s about to pass fertility control laws, end subsidies for contraception (including condoms), ban contraceptive information as well as sterilization, and severely limit abortions. Which state?

The state of Iran.

Follow Patt Morrison on Twitter @pattmlatimes