The Worst -- and Weirdest -- Ways Politicians Tried to Limit Access to Abortion in 2015

2015 wasn’t a great year for reproductive rights.

Federal and state lawmakers introduced more than 400 bills and enacted 47 new laws intended to restrict access to reproductive health care — the most in any recent year. Considerably fewer bills sought to expand access — and only three of those became laws.

On the federal level, the politicians backing many of these anti-abortion bills know it’s unlikely they’ll get past Congress. But that’s not always the point. Instead, they’re used as a tool to repetitively hammer false ideas about abortion into the public sphere. On the state level, meanwhile, abortion opponents are pushing toward new extremes to hamper patients’ access to the procedure on multiple levels.

Here are the most popular — and most absurd — ways legislators tried to restrict access to abortion and other types of reproductive health care in 2015:

1) Pretending women don’t think over their decision to have an abortion

Abortion patients are being required to jump through more hoops thanks to lawmakers who claim that they need more time to think over their decision. Thirteen state legislators proposed bills in 2015 that would require women take two trips to a clinic before actually getting an abortion. And several states extended their waiting period requirements to force women to wait at least 72 hours after meeting with a physician to discuss their abortion before returning an actually having the procedure. 

At the first meeting, physicians must inform women of all the risks of the procedure, suggest alternatives, and direct them to an informative website. While not stating it outright, this requirement suggests that the state government refuses to believe women can educate themselves about their options on their own. 

Plus, reproductive rights advocates say that these waiting period requirements place an untenable burden on low-income women in particular, who may not have the resources to take off work or arrange transportation.

Another tactic arose this year in Arizona and Arkansas, which both passed laws requiring doctors to tell women that they can “reverse” their abortion — an entirely unproven practice called “downright offensive” by OB-GYNs. Abortion opponents are behind the idea that injecting the hormone progesterone after the first dose of pills involved in a medication abortion can reverse the procedure. But medical experts say there’s nothing to back up the theory. 

2) Forcing abortion providers to try and change women’s minds

Legislators have also decided that women don’t have enough information about how far along they are in their pregnancy — and may be unaware that their fetus has some similarities to a fully-formed child. In order to educate them, many state legislators want their doctors to step in and play a role in convincing them not to have an abortion.

Twelve states introduced bills this year that force doctors to ask women if they want to see their ultrasound prior to having an abortion. Worse, most of these bills include language requiring doctors to show the ultrasound and describe what’s on the screen — specifically pointing the fetus’ developing brain and heart. In some cases, doctors must ask if the woman wants to hear the fetus’ heartbeat when present.

In many instances, this both puts doctors and patients in a highly uncomfortable situation. Legal experts have said these laws require the physician to “distance himself as much as possible from his personal preferences and values.” Many women purposefully choose not to learn details about their fetus, and don’t need a doctor asking them otherwise.

3) Telling women that abortion is dangerous and might send them to the hospital

The United States has recently seen a substantial drop in abortion clinics across the country — but many of them didn’t shutter by choice. “Targeted regulations of abortion providers” (TRAP) laws have systematically forced clinics out of business by requiring them to meet stringent regulations that make safe, professional clinics appear unqualified for the job.

A Maryland bill proposed in March, for instance, would have required any physician who performs an abortion to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 15 miles from their facility. Plus, physicians would have to give their patient contact information to the nearest hospital before performing the procedure.

Proponents of these bills — there were 12 in total proposed this year — say they’re based on safety, and exist just in case something goes awry during the procedure. This is based on no medical evidence. In fact, physicians have said that an abortion is one of the safest medical procedures in the United States. Instead, they’ve said these bills are merely a scare tactic used to mislead patients about the clinic’s safety. 

This issue is headed to the Supreme Court next year thanks to a particularly extreme TRAP law in Texas. Half of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed since that law was passed. Depending how the court rules, even more will close because they cannot afford to make the unnecessary and costly renovations — like widening hallways and installing air filtration systems — required by the state’s TRAP law to keep them afloat. 

4) Assuming women have abortions based on the unborn child’s characteristics

This year, federal and state lawmakers were convinced they needed to stop women from discriminating against their unborn children.

Anti-abortion politicians have ironically used a civil rights angle to propose bills banning “sex-selective abortions,” or abortions that are seemingly decided upon because the fetus is an unwanted gender. Studies have found that find this type of abortion is not a widespread issue in the United States. And Asian-American groups, often targeted for wanting these procedures, have been outspoken about the false stereotype lawmakers have pinned to their culture.

On top of that, some abortion opponents want to prevent women from ending a pregnancy if she receives a diagnosis of a health issue. Five states introduced legislation to prohibit a woman from getting an abortion if her reasoning has to do with her fetus having a genetic abnormality, like Down’s Syndrome, or — in Texas’ case — a “severe and irreversible abnormality.” Many of these severe abnormalities only grant a baby a few hours of life after being born.

5) Banning the safest method of second trimester abortions.

Kansas become the first state this year to ban so-called “dismemberment abortions,” and Oklahoma quickly followed suit. The name sounds like something that takes place in medieval torture chambers. But in reality, the second trimester abortions referred to in the legislation — medically known as Dilation and Evacuation (D&E) procedures — are the safest and most common procedure for women this far along in pregnancy.


State lawmakers have introduced 31 bills banning these later abortions this year. To drum up support for the legislation, abortion opponents rely on graphic language, like “tearing a baby apart, limb by limb,” and images depicting the procedure to add to the shock factor — but most doctors compare a D&E abortion to any other technical surgical process.

Without D&E abortion procedures, the options dwindle for performing a termination after the first trimester — the only other options are far more expensive, time-consuming, and very physically and emotionally exhausting.

6) Assuming women are getting tricked into having abortions

From proposing mandatory signage at abortion clinics reading “No one can make you have an abortion against your will,” to forcing women to sign a “coercion abortion form” to indicate they weren’t pressured into having the procedure, lawmakers have tried hard this year to convince society that few women independently chose to have an abortion. Much of the proposed legislation related to these types of “coercion tests” includes alternative contact information for anti-abortion clinics that don’t employ licensed doctors. 

There’s no evidence that U.S. women are actually getting tricked into having abortions. In fact, recent surveys suggest that more than 95 percent of women who have had abortions say that it was the right choice for them and they don’t regret it.

7) Claiming that many babies are born alive during an attempted abortion. And that doctors will still kill them.

At the federal level, conservative legislators introduced bills this year that would penalize doctors involved in live-birth abortions who fail to give “appropriate care” to the baby.

Under these bills, doctors could be sentenced to five years in prison if they don’t administer lifesaving treatment to fetuses that are born alive after attempted abortions. The likely underlying purpose of these bills? Suggesting that abortion providers like Planned Parenthood are currently breaking the law. But legislators in opposition of these bills have said they’re unnecessary, since it’s already illegal to kill a child born alive during an abortion.

The ACLU added that the federal legislation, which is misleadingly titled the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,’’ is another tactic to “intimidate abortion providers and drive them out of practice.”

8) Defining fetuses as people — and punishing women with murder

The “personhood” movement — in which legislators attempt to extend legal protections to fertilized eggs — continued into 2015, as states stick women with homicide charges for conducting their own abortions or even for having a miscarriage. In some of these states, there’s no law to back the charges. But twelve have tried to introduce new “fetal homicide” legislation this year.


In a proposed Washington bill, for example, a pregnant woman would be charged for second-degree manslaughter if she “engages in conduct which creates a grave risk of death to an unborn viable child, and thereby causes its death.” This could be anything from having a drug addiction to accidentally falling and injuring the fetus.

At the federal level, GOP lawmakers introduced multiple bills with similar text, declaring that “each human life begins with fertilization.”

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Think Progress / Alex Zielinski / Dec. 21, 2015