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The Issue: Texas in the spotlight; other states enact abortion laws

By NICOLE DEBEVEC, United Press International   |   July 7, 2013 at 6:30 AM   |   Comments

While the eyes of the nation were on Texas' abortion debate and filibuster, laws affecting abortion access went into effect without much national hoopla.

Taking a second bite at the apple, Texas Republicans -- with 30 days and the majority of state lawmakers on their side -- are almost assured of success this time around after an 11-hour filibuster scuttled a similar bill during a June special session.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Rep. Jodie Laubenberg, would ban abortions after 20 weeks, except to save the life of the woman or to terminate a fetus with severe abnormalities, and also would require abortion clinics and doctors performing the procedures to comply with the new requirements, including all abortion clinics to upgrade to surgical center standards.

"The Texas Legislature is poised to finish its history-making work this year by passing legislation to protect the unborn and women's health," Republican Gov. Rick Perry said in a statement.

Meanwhile, Ohio Gov. John Kasich, a Republican, signed into law last week one of the country's most stringent laws governing abortion.

Ohio's law contains something that is particular only to the Buckeye state. Clinics must have an agreement with a local hospital to transfer patients should an emergency arise, but the law now bans public hospitals from entering such agreements -- a move opponents of the restriction say will be used as an excuse to close clinics that can't comply, The Washington Post reported.

Another Ohio-specific aspect: The Health Department director, a political appointee, has the power to revoke variances given to clinics lacking a transfer agreement, as well as determine whether transfer agreements are satisfactory.

Abortion rights advocates told the Post the agreements are not medically necessary because complications during abortions are rare and because in an emergency situation, any patient would be admitted to a nearby hospital.

"We want clinics to be safe," said Kellie Copeland, the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Ohio, "but our fear is that this red tape, and really that's all it is, will be used an excuse to close clinics."

A requirement for transfer agreements alone is more widespread in the country, the Post reported. Guttmacher Institute data indicate eight states require them -- Kentucky, Michigan, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Virginia and Wisconsin are the others.

"Ohio is a testing ground for abortion restrictions," said Elizabeth Nash, a policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion non-profit. In 2012 the state was the first to try to ban abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat. That bill failed, but similar legislation succeeded in other states. Ohio's new law requires doctors to search for a heartbeat and inform women seeking abortions if they find one.

Twenty-week bans such as the one in Texas have been subject to court challenges; indeed, the Texas bill's sponsor expects a legal challenge.

In the first special session, the measure didn't make it to the Senate for final approval until the last day, giving state Sen. Wendy Davis, a Democrat, the window -- and a viral national stage -- to filibuster the measure to defeat amid session-ending confusion.

Laubenberg's bill already has cleared a House committee and could be considered by the full House this week. She has said she won't accept amendments.

Bill opponents say the latest Texas bill does so much more than restrict abortion options, ABC News reported.

Both men and women, particularly low-income minorities who more likely won't have health insurance and medical care options, rely on the "abortion clinics" for services such as contraception, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, even cancer screenings.

"That is part of the concern that's getting drowned out in the abortions versus pro-life sound bite," Texas Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, a Democrat, told ABC News during a phone interview.

While Ohio's new abortion law won't go into effect for about 90 days, laws passed and signed earlier went into effect last in Alabama, Indiana, Kansas, Mississippi and South Dakota did, ABC News said.

A law in Montana, and a portion of a law in Alabama would have taken effect but were blocked by federal courts.

ABC News noted all were passed by Republican-controlled legislatures and signed by GOP governors:

-- Alabama: Women in Alabama now can't obtain "abortion pills" via telemedicine consultations and abortion doctors in Alabama must examine women before prescribing abortion pills.

If performing abortions on minors, doctors now must ask Alabama patients to give the name and age of the fetus' father; the patients can refuse, but the doctors must ask.

Also, the new law, signed in April, classifies abortion clinics as "ambulatory health" (outpatient surgery) centers, requiring them to meet the same fire codes, submitting architectural drawings and sprinkler plans within 180 days and receive a certificate of compliance within a year.

A federal judge blocked a provision requiring abortion doctors in Alabama have hospital-admitting privileges.

-- Indiana: Women must now be given ultrasounds before getting abortions in Indiana, under a law signed May 1.

Any health care provider prescribing abortion pills must abide by the same regulations as medical abortion clinics, and the secretary of state's office must draft new regulations for sanitation standards, staff qualifications, necessary emergency equipment and other requirements for the clinics.

Medication abortions no longer can be prescribed via telemedicine consultations; abortion doctors or nurses must meet with women in person and discuss the health risks associated with taking an abortion pill.

-- Kansas: Kansas now bans doctors from performing an abortion if they know the procedure is being sought because of fetal sex.

The new law, signed in April, also requires abortion doctors to tell their patients that after 20 weeks, a fetus can feel pain and "the abortion will terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique, living human being," per the bill's language. Doctors also must warn women having abortions puts them at greater risk of breast cancer, a position that is subject to debate, with the National Cancer Institute posting on its website that newer studies "consistently showed no association between induced and spontaneous abortions and breast cancer risk."

Kansas abortion providers are also banned from participating in public-school sex education.

Under provisions of another Kansas law, Kansas women no longer can sue doctors for withholding information that leads them to decide against having an abortion.

-- Mississippi: In another ban on telemedicine abortion-pill prescriptions, Mississippi now requires doctors prescribing medication abortions to first examine women seeking them and to schedule follow-up visits after women induce abortions. The bill was signed in April.

-- South Dakota: Women seeking abortions in South Dakota must wait 72 hours after consulting with an abortion provider, and those hours must fall on business days -- weekends and holidays don't count.

Montana's new law requires girls less than 18 to gain parental consent before receiving abortions but a federal judge temporarily blocked it after Planned Parenthood of Montana sued.

Even Congress is passing bills to restrict abortion. The House Judiciary Committee passed legislation that would ban abortion at 20 weeks nationwide.

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said the efforts in Washington and in state houses "have nothing to do with protecting women or promoting healthcare and they will not stand."

She said the GOP-led House's efforts were "part of an orchestrated effort to roll back women's rights and access to health care across the country -- and it is hurting the women who need more access to healthcare, not less."

Planned Parenthood noted several legal efforts have prevented – as least temporarily -- some state abortion laws:

-- Arizona's 20-week ban was ruled unconstitutional by the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

-- Arkansas' recent 12-week ban was preliminarily enjoined because it "impermissibly infringes a woman's 14th Amendment right to choose to terminate a pregnancy before viability."

-- Georgia's 20-week ban is preliminarily blocked by a state court while a challenge proceeds.

-- Idaho's 20-week ban was ruled unconstitutional. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill wrote: "The state's clear disregard of this controlling Supreme Court precedent and its apparent determination to define viability in a manner specifically and repeatedly condemned by the Supreme Court evinces an intent to place an insurmountable obstacle in the path of women."

Michigan's abortion battlefield in the coming months includes summer fairs, farmers markets and churches, MLive.com reported.

Right to Life of Michigan, promoting a measure vetoed in 2012 by Republican Gov. Rick Snyder, is conducting a statewide petition drive for legislation that would bar public and private health insurance policies from including abortion coverage unless a woman, her family or her employer buys an optional rider.

The non-profit organization hopes its bill will earn legislative approval and enacted into law later this year, MLive.com said. The citizen-initiated measure would not be subject to a gubernatorial veto and legislative approval eliminates the possibility of a popular vote.

"We've been successful [with petition drives] in the past," said Pam Sherstad, director of public information for Right to Life of Michigan. "We're a statewide organization that works in communities across Michigan, and we've had an enthusiastic response to this effort."

Planned Parenthood of Michigan isn't twiddling its thumbs. The organization's advocacy unit has begun a statewide educational tour, door-knocking, and asking residents to pledge their opposition and "decline to sign" the petition.

© 2013 United Press International, Inc. All Rights Reserved. Any reproduction, republication, redistribution and/or modification of any UPI content is expressly prohibited without UPI's prior written consent.
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