10 States Where Abortion Is Virtually Illegal for Some Women


In recent years, abortion restrictions on the state level have made abortion harder to access and harder to afford, making it just as inaccessible to many women as it would be if it were outright illegal.

As pro-choicers have long argued, abortion bans don’t stop abortion so much as drive it underground. Thousands of women were admitted to hospitals every year for septic abortions when the procedure was illegal, either from unsafe back-alley providers or their own amateur attempts at home. 

Abortion is a legal right today. But thanks to increasingly restrictive state and local laws and overzealous law enforcement, we are seeing a return to pre-Roeback-alley abortions and increasingly criminal treatment of women. Here are 10 states where abortion laws are putting women’s health and freedom in danger: 

1) Idaho. Even though the constitutional right to abortion has been established for 38 years, a woman in Idaho was arrested and charged for aborting her pregnancy. The woman bought some drugs online to terminate her pregnancy, and was ratted out by an acquaintance who disapproves of a woman’s right to choose. Even though the rat is technically on the wrong side of the constitutional determinations regarding this question, she got her way. The woman in question was arrested because of Idaho’s recent ban on post-20-week abortions, even though she claims to have believed she was only 14 weeks along, which could be true, if she wasn’t seeing a doctor during this time. 

Most anti-choicers claim they want to jail abortion providers, not women who have abortions, but it’s telling that the very first person to be charged under this new trend of states banning abortion at 20 weeks was not a doctor, but the woman who actually terminated her pregnancy. 

Idaho has seen a rapid decline in abortion providers, from seven in 2005 to four today. Lack of access could drive more women to these drastic measures. 

2) Iowa. Iowa’s doing better on the numbers; unlike in most states, the number of providers has grown, from nine to 11. But that doesn’t mean it’s still not dangerous for women in Iowa.  

Think being charged for a crime for having an abortion is scary? A woman in Iowa was arrested (not, thankfully, prosecuted) for merely thinking about abortion. Christine Taylor accidentally fell down some stairs and went for treatment at the hospital. While telling the nurse about her personal problems, a common enough situation at a hospital, Taylor let on that she had briefly considered abortion early in her pregnancy. The nurse called the cops, claiming the accident was an attempt at self-abortion. Taylor suffered three weeks of purgatory before the D.A. dropped the charges, but the fact remains that a woman was arrested and charges were considered on the grounds that she’d thought about exercising her constitutional rights.  

3) Utah. As Michelle Goldberg explained in the Daily Beast, no woman’s story is too heart-rending for anti-choice zealots not to try to put her in jail for attempting an abortion. A pregnant 17-year-old who lived without electricity or running water in rural Utah, who may have been exploited by an older man and who certainly had no way to get to a doctor or pay for an abortion, paid a man $150 to beat her in the stomach. 

The closest provider to the girl was a long drive away in Salt Lake City; there’s a total of seven providers in the whole state. Even though the abortion didn’t work, she was charged with criminal solicitation for murder. The charges were thrown out, because abortion is still not legally considered murder, but with many states passing 20-week bans on abortion, we can expect to see similar cases prosecuted with charges that could actually stick.  

4) Louisiana. Using law enforcement creatively to get around the legal right to abortion is done in ways other than prosecuting women, of course. There’s also the practice of targeting abortion providers and hitting them with unnecessary, harassing regulations that aren’t applied to any other medical facilities.

Louisiana now has a law allowing abortion clinics to be shut down for any violation of any regulation, no matter how minor, even though it’s standard in most cases to let medical facilities stay open as long as they’re resolving the problem. To make it worse, Louisiana has a bunch of regulations that apply only to abortion providers that can be used for this purpose; laws such as requiring abortion providers to have a board of directors, even though other ob-gyns who do similar procedures do not have similar restraints.

The law has already been used to shut the doors of one clinic in New Orleans; a major loss as there’s only seven providers in the entire state, four of whom are in New Orleans. And if that wasn’t bad enough, Louisiana is also looking to ban abortion outright and attempt to take the issue back to the Supreme Court.  

5) Kansas. It may still be legal to get or provide abortion in Kansas, but it’s become increasingly dangerous to do so. Human rights aren’t really being secured if trying to exercise them means facing threats of violence, as the civil rights activists of the past can tell you. Already one abortion provider in Kanas, Dr. George Tiller, has been assassinated, which dropped the number of providers in the state from four to three.  

Even though the assassin received a life sentence, the continued threats of terrorism in Kansas haven’t slowed down at all, but have escalated. When a family doctor named Dr. Mila Means announced her intention to start offering abortions in Dr. Tiller’s stead, the result was a barrage of threats and harassment. And when the Department of Justice attempted to get a restraining order on one anti-choice extremist who threatened to kill Dr. Means, a federal court judge refused the request. It remains to be seen if federal intervention can quell the escalating hostilities.  

6) Virginia. Virginia is quickly rivaling some of the more deep South states in the art of using legal harassment to run abortion providers out of business. Not only is the legislature trying to pass regulations that hold abortion clinics to hospital-level standards, but anti-choicers are trying to interfere with the Department of Health's decisions allowing abortion clinics to operate in the state. If anti-choice forces prevail, at least 17 of the 22 abortion clinics in Virginia will be forced to shut their doors. 

7) Mississippi. The legal battles continue over whether or not it’s legal for the state to issue a ballot initiative on the question of whether a fertilized egg should be legally considered a “person.” If civil liberties groups challenging the ballot initiative lose out, it will probably pass into law, which not only threatens abortion, contraception and IVF access, but could result in legal actions taken against women who merely miscarry or give birth to stillborns.

The Jackson Women’s Health Clinic claims to be the only abortion clinic in the entire state.  

8) Indiana. Indiana has dropped from 15 providers in 2005 to 12 in 2008. Law enforcement in the state has been looking for creative ways to put women in jail for failing to bear live children. A woman who attempted suicide while pregnant, only to give birth to a baby who didn’t survive, has been charged with murder. The state of Indiana doesn’t think Bei Bei Shuai suffered enough, even though she was abandoned by her boyfriend, had two mental breakdowns, tried to commit suicide, and lost a baby who only lived for four days after being born.  

Now they’re trying to throw her in jail in an attempt not just to chip away at abortion rights, but to set the legal groundwork for charging women with murder if they terminate their pregnancies. 

9) Ohio. Luckily, legislation that would ban abortion of any pregnancy where the fetus has a heartbeat is currently stalled in the legislature, but if this bill moves forward, it could be nearly as dangerous as a bill defining a fertilized egg as a person.  

In many pregnancies, there’s a heartbeat detectable before a woman notices her period is late, so the bill would essentially criminalize all abortions. As noted, a woman has been arrested in Idaho for self-abortion after the 20-week limit, so a limit at eight or nine weeks would open the door for arresting women left and right in Ohio. 

While there are 26 abortion providers in Ohio, there's already anecdotal coverage that this may not be enough. One Ohio clinic CEO told me there are reports of women traveling from to her clinics in Detroit in order to avoid the hassle of abortion in Ohio. 

10) South Dakota. South Dakota legislators passed the most stringent waiting period law in the country, requiring a woman to wait 72 hours for an abortion and consult with a registered anti-choice pregnancy center before getting her abortion. 

As no anti-choice centers have signed up yet, the law functionally bans abortion in South Dakota. Planned Parenthood is suing the state, and trying to get an injunction to prevent the law from being enforced while the lawsuit is ongoing. Planned Parenthood runs the sole abortion clinic in South Dakota, in Sioux Falls. South Dakota makes it so hard to get an abortion that a hefty percentage of women leave the state instead; nearly 36 percent of the patients at the clinic in Fargo, North Dakota come from out of state, mostly South Dakota.

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