Stop Abortion Bans Rally in St. Paul, Minn., on May 21, 2019. (Fibonacci Blue / Flickr)

“There is a mountain of pressing issues that state legislators need to deal with. … But none of that really gins up the conservative base. Instead, we are seeing attacks on trans youth, attacks on abortion, and attacks on voting rights.”

—Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s principal policy associate on state issues.

Editor’s note: The laws discussed in this piece are not yet in effect and will likely be challenged and blocked before making their way to the Supreme Court.

In the first four months of 2021, anti-abortion lawmakers introduced 536 abortion restrictions in 46 states, including 146 abortion bans, according to a report released by the Guttmacher Institute on Friday. They enacted 61 restrictions in 13 states, including eight bans that would go into effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Governors signed 28 restrictions into law in eight states just last week.

“Each additional restriction increases patients’ logistical, financial and legal barriers to care, especially where entire clusters of states are hostile to abortion,” said one of the report’s authors Elizabeth Nash, Guttmacher’s principal policy associate on state issues.

Anti-abortion lawmakers have passed significantly more abortion restrictions in 2021 than in the first four months of 2011—the year previously regarded as the most hostile to abortion rights since Roe—when states enacted 42 restrictions by the end of April, including six bans.

Here’s a sampling of some of these recent laws attacking abortion access:

  • Arizona passed a bill to criminalize providers who perform or aid in an abortion sought due to a fetal genetic abnormality.
  • Arkansas passed a bill requiring patients to view an ultrasound before an abortion.
  • Indiana and West Virginia passed bills requiring abortion providers to inform patients about “abortion reversal,” which is not supported by medical evidence.
  • Kentucky passed a bill to remove the right to an abortion from the State Constitution.
  • Oklahoma passed a law adding abortion procedures to the list of unprofessional conduct by doctors and a “heartbeat bill” prohibiting abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected.
  • South Dakota passed a bill to ban abortions based on a fetal Down syndrome diagnosis.
  • Wyoming enacted a “born-alive” bill, which will take effect July 1. 

A Blip, or a Sign of More to Come?

Nash believes this surge is not a coincidence, but a harbinger of more restrictions in the coming months.

“It doesn’t look like anything is abating for the foreseeable future,” Nash told Ms. “We haven’t even gotten to Texas, which is coming out with a whole package of restrictions on abortion that includes everything from a near total ban all the way to restrictions on medication abortion. Texas has one of these legislatures that shifted further to the right in the past election and we’re seeing this whole smorgasbord of abortion restrictions there. It reminds us again just how important state legislatures are and who’s in them.”

Bills like these fly in the face of health experts. On Tuesday, 200 physicians signed and sent an open letter to members of the Texas House expressing their opposition to one such bill: Senate Bill 8, which would ban abortion after just six weeks and would allow “any person” to sue doctors who perform abortions, and will be considered by the full House on Wednesday. 

Several other states are poised to adopt new restrictions too, said Nash—including Montana, Florida, Oklahoma, Idaho, Tennessee and Missouri.

Why Now?

Nash attributes the surge to several factors. “One, the 2020 elections resulted in a number of state legislatures becoming more conservative in places like Texas, Arizona, South Carolina, Montana and Wyoming. But also, we have a Supreme Court that has announced that they are welcoming more cases on abortion,” referring to Chief Justice Roberts’s concurrence in last summer’s abortion decision of June Medical Services v. Russo. “This is creating an environment where state legislators are eager to move abortion restrictions.â

But Nash also emphasizes how conservative legislators are using the issue of abortion to mobilize their base, as they did in a previous surge in abortion restrictions.

“Back in 2011, the United States was coming out of a recession, but state legislatures still had heavy revenue issues and there was a lot of unemployment. In the 2010 elections, we had a real shift to more conservative legislators in part because these candidates were saying that they wanted to do something about the economy and do something about state budgets. But instead of addressing these economic issues, they focused on social issues—in particular, abortion. They did that because they were looking to solidify their base and keep their base engaged.”

“We are seeing some of the same things happen in 2021,” said Nash. “There is a mountain of pressing issues that state legislators need to deal with. There’s health care access in the pandemic, there’s systemic racism, there’s education reform and criminal justice reform, unemployment, small business assistance—the list goes on. But none of that really gins up the conservative base. Instead, we are seeing attacks on trans youth, attacks on abortion, and attacks on voting rights.”

In the first four months of 2021, Republican lawmakers introduced 360 bills to restrict voting rights and over 100 anti-transgender rights bills.