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Forty-one years ago this week, the Supreme Court decided Roe vs. Wade, the landmark case that expanded women’s abortion rights. Fast forward to today, and access to abortion is still a hotly debated issue.
Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., defended abortion rights in a statement on her website for the case’s Jan. 22 anniversary.
"In 2013, our nation saw yet another record-breaking year of state legislatures passing restrictive legislation barring women’s access to abortion services," she said. "In fact, in the past three years, the United States has enacted more of these restrictions than in the previous 10 years combined."
We wanted to zero in on the numbers of state abortion restrictions to see whether the number of restrictions skyrocketed over the last three years.
Murray’s office didn’t return our requests for comment, but we found data compiled by the Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit that promotes reproductive health and and abortion rights. The group first outlined the differences in abortion restrictions by year in a report released Jan. 2, 2014.
Counting different provisions in the same bill independently, the group tallied 205 new abortion restrictions during the period 2011 to 2013, compared to 189 during the 10 years through 2010. Now, out of the 205 restrictions, there are 25 not currently in effect, either because a court struck them down or a court case is pending.
Guttmacher tracked these all 205 restrictions in 10 categories, four of which accounted for nearly half of the restrictions from the last three years: abortion bans, regulations on abortion providers, abortion medication, and private insurance coverage for abortion. (Using the Guttmacher data, the Washington Post made their own handy breakdown of abortion restrictions by state.)
For perspective, in 2000, Guttmacher considered the two most restrictive states to be Utah and Mississippi, both of which had restrictions on the books in five of the institute's 10 categories. By 2013, 22 states had five or more restrictions. Louisiana had restrictions in all 10 categories.
Methodological differences mean there’s room for debate over the exact number of restrictions, even among abortion-rights groups.
While Guttmacher reported 205 abortion restrictions over the last three years, the Center for Reproductive Rights counted approximately 130, said Amanda Allen, the center’s state legislative counsel. That’s because the Center for Reproductive Rights counted each bill just once, regardless of how many different provisions it may have included. The center hasn't been tracking the legislation since 2000, so they don't have a comparable number to pit against Guttmacher's 189 from that decade.
While both groups that compiled the numbers are pro-abortion-rights, their figures aren’t being contested by the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion group. A spokeswoman for the Susan B. Anthony List told PolitiFact that the Guttmacher study "certainly appears to be accurate."
Murray said there have been more state-level abortion restrictions in the past three years than in the 10 years before that. A Guttmacher Institute report counted 205 restrictions from 2011 to 2013, compared to 189 from the previous decade. It's worth noting that 25 of those aren't currently in effect, but Murray specifically referred to restrictions enacted, not restrictions currently enforced. Both abortion-rights advocates and anti-abortion advocates told PolitiFact that they concur with Guttmacher's data. We rate her claim True.
Email interview with Kate Bernyk, Center for Reproductive Rights spokeswoman, Jan. 22, 2014
Email interview with Mallory Quigley, Susan B. Anthony List spokeswoman, Jan. 23, 2014
Email interview with Mindy Roseman, Harvard Law School Human Rights Program academic director, Jan. 22, 2014
Guttmacher Institute, "Laws affecting reproductive health and rights: 2013 state policy review," Jan. 2, 2014
Patty Murray's Senate website, "Senator Murray's statement on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade," Jan. 22, 2014
Phone and email interviews with Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher Institute state issues manager, Jan. 24, 2014
Phone interview with Rebecca Wind, Guttmacher Institute spokeswoman, Jan. 22, 2014
Washington Post, "How abortion rights opponents are winning, in one graph," Jan. 23, 2014
Washington Post, "States passed 205 abortion restrictions in three years. That’s totally unprecedented," Jan. 3, 2014
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