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Taking stock of new abortion laws as many legislatures start to adjourn

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Taking stock of new abortion laws as many legislatures start to adjourn

Jun 07, 2024 | 5:21 pm ET
By Kelcie Moseley-Morris
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Louisiana became the first state in the nation to criminalize mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used in first trimester abortions and to treat miscarriages. (Getty Images)
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Louisiana became the first state in the nation to criminalize mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used in first trimester abortions and to treat miscarriages. (Getty Images)

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Since early February, States Newsroom has been tracking abortion-related bills in state legislatures nationwide. Hundreds of bills were introduced, but only a handful of those tracked by States Newsroom made it through the political process at state capitols. 

The legislative season for most states is beginning to wind down until next year, so it’s a good time to take a look at some of the abortion-related legislation that made its way into state code. This will be the last installment of States Newsroom’s legislative tracker until next year. 

Crisis pregnancy centers receive big infusions of taxpayer money

One of the biggest winners of this year’s legislative sessions seems to be crisis pregnancy centers, which are anti-abortion organizations that advertise as supportive care for people facing unplanned pregnancies. The centers have often been criticized for promoting medical misinformation as it relates to abortion. 

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 54 bills have been introduced this year to increase funding for such organizations. Out of the bills introduced, at least five became law in Arkansas, Kansas, Louisiana, Utah and West Virginia

Arkansas, Louisiana and West Virginia have near-total bans on abortion, while Utah has an 18-week limit. Abortion is legal in Kansas until fetal viability. Legislators in Arkansas and Kansas approved $2 million in their respective state budgets for crisis pregnancy centers, while West Virginia allocated $3 million from its budget. In Louisiana, funding will increase from $1 million this year to at least $3 million and up to $5 million in the next fiscal year.

Utah budgeted $200,000 grants for two of the anti-abortion centers in its budget. 

Bills became law in states with and without abortion bans

In Kansas, where voters overwhelmingly rejected a proposal in 2022 that would have allowed abortion bans, several pieces of legislation became law after the legislature overcame Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly’s vetoes. Kelly had cited the will of voters in that election in her veto letters. 

Perhaps the most significant bill out of Kansas is the so-called “abortion survey” bill, which requires medical facilities and providers to ask patients for the most important reason why they are terminating a pregnancy before the abortion is performed, including asking the patient whether they were the victim of rape, incest or domestic abuse. That data will be sent to the legislature on a biannual basis. The Center for Reproductive Rights and Planned Parenthood Great Plains are challenging the law in court, calling the questions overly intrusive and intimidation tactics. 

Another Kansas bill makes it a felony for someone to pressure another person into getting an abortion, including doctors, family members and partners. 

In Tennessee, a measure similar to one passed in Idaho that criminalizes the act of helping a minor obtain abortion pills or an abortion procedure, will take effect July 1. Idaho’s law is currently blocked by a court order. 

Tennessee’s law makes the act a misdemeanor, regardless of where pills were obtained, with a mandatory minimum sentence of one year in prison. It doesn’t pertain to the parents or legal guardians of the person seeking an abortion, and allows an affirmative defense in court if the minor’s parents consented to the activity. Critics have said the bill is especially harmful to minors who may have abusive parents. 

And after several years of efforts, the Missouri Legislature successfully enacted a law prohibiting the spending of any public funds on an abortion facility or its affiliates or associates, including Medicaid, through the MO HealthNet program. It is meant to target Planned Parenthood clinics, which do not provide abortions in Missouri but may provide referrals to clinics in other states for abortion care. The clinics do provide contraceptives, testing for sexually transmitted diseases and cancer, and general wellness visits. The new law goes into effect Aug. 28, but the staff of Planned Parenthood clinics said they remain committed to staying open to all.

Many birth control access bills failed to become law

Those same two states with so-called trafficking laws — Idaho and Tennessee — did manage to enact legislation requiring health insurance plans operating in their states to provide 12-month supplies of birth control. According to Guttmacher, 28 other bills that would have achieved the same goal failed to become law. 

The bill in Idaho squeaked through by one vote after six years of efforts by one of the Democratic legislators, while Tennessee’s bill passed by a much more comfortable margin. Another bill that would have made it clear the state’s abortion ban does not threaten access to contraception died in the House, though.

Guttmacher tracked at least 55 other bills establishing a legal right to contraception that went nowhere in state legislatures around the country, while two passed one chamber but died after that. Close to the same amount of bills that would have protected contraceptive coverage under insurance also failed. 

Attempts to restrict medication abortion mostly failed

Although many bills were introduced, few that affect medication abortion became law. One of the most significant was in Louisiana, where Republican Gov. Jeff Landry signed a bill categorizing mifepristone and misoprostol, the two drugs used to terminate a pregnancy in the first trimester and to treat miscarriages, as “controlled dangerous substances.”  Louisiana is the first state to criminalize the drugs. After Oct. 1, anyone who possesses either medication faces up to five years in prison, and those distributing the drugs face up to 10 years, although it does not apply to a pregnant person who takes the medication. More than 200 Louisiana doctors asked lawmakers not to proceed with the action. 

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