This Week in the War on Women in the States

As the world marks the 101st International Women’s Day, more and more American women are finding their own health under rhetorical and legislative attack in the halls of Congress, on radio airwaves, and in state after state. From attempts to defund organizations providing women with basic health services, to placing intrusive and often humiliating obstacles before women exercising the right to choose, to restricting access to contraception, the past few weeks have seen a range of attacks on women in the states – and a growing movement of progressive state lawmakers standing up and fighting back.

In Virginia, national furor and protests in the state over a bill requiring invasive transvaginal ultrasounds for all women seeking an abortion forced the state’s House of Delegates to go back and pass a revised version of their bill that would allow women to opt for an abdominal ultrasound instead. The revised bill was signed into law by Gov. Bob McDonnell this week, days after over 30 peaceful protesters were arrested at a the state Capitol. The controversy that erupted over Virginia’s bill may have influenced the fate of a similar bill in Alabama, where State Senator Clay Scofield indicated this week that he is seeking a delay for the ultrasound bill he is sponsoring in order to address some opponents’ concerns. An ultrasound bill in Pennsylvania is also scheduled for a vote next week.

In other states, attacks on reproductive rights continued at the same blistering rate seen across the nation since conservatives took control of many state chambers two years ago. Oklahoma’s state senate passed a bill to place more barriers in front of women seeking abortions. Mississippi lawmakers continue to advance bills that would place limits on the morning-after pill and make access to abortions even more restrictive. And in Texas, the ideological effort by the state legislature to defund Planned Parenthood may lead to the shutdown next week of clinics that provide health services to 130,000 women.

Despite clear majorities of the public favoring access to contraception – used by 98% of American women at some point in their lives – conservatives in the states are also continuing to push legislation to restrict access to birth control. In New Hampshire, one of the 27 states who currently have laws on the books requiring insurers to cover contraception, the state House passed a bill this week that would allow some employers to opt out. The 196-150 vote, however, fell well short of the margin needed to override a veto. Legislation to deny access to contraception has also been introduced in other states recently, including Missouri, Idaho, and Arizona.

Women state legislators have not sat by idly while these attacks have progressed.

In Minnesota, Assistant House Minority Leader Erin Murphy and Rep. Tim Mahoney introduced the “Contraceptive Equity Act” this week that would require insurers to fully cover contraception. “Minnesota women to know that we will not wither under such attacks,” said Rep. Murphy at a press conference introducing the bill. "We will fight to protect basic health care, including contraception, so women remain in control over this fundamental decision in their lives."

Thirty-two women state lawmakers in Maine sent a letter recently to state Attorney General William Schneider, pressing him to remove his name from a letter that opposes a national requirement that health insurance plans cover contraception.

And in Georgia, eight of the state’s nine female state senators staged a walk out of their legislative session on Wednesday in protest of two measures that would restrict access to health services for women. “What we’re seeing here,” State Sen. Nan Orrock told a reporter, “is an ideological battle that’s being waged to make women a target, to take our access to our Constitutional right of privacy and also our ability to make our health decisions with our doctor and our own best judgment.

Other legislators are taking a different, satirical approach. In Missouri, State Rep. Stacey Newman gained national attention for her bill that would restrict vasectomies for men, while in Ohio, State Sen. Nina Turner introduced similar legislation to “take appropriate steps to shelter vulnerable men from the potential side effects” of drugs intended to treat impotence.

Sen. Turner explained her reasoning behind the bill, noting in a press release that since “the men in our lives, including members of the General Assembly, generously devote time to fundamental female reproductive issues—the least we can do is return the favor.”

In addition to these individual efforts, state legislators from around the nation are joining together to sign on to a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services supporting efforts to ensure that all women have access to contraceptive coverage. As state attacks on women’s health seem likely to continue, progressive state lawmakers are continuing to lead the way in standing up for women across the nation.

Full Resources from this Article

This Week in the War on Women in the States


Stateline – Abortion ultrasound debate intensifies
Washington Post – 2012: Another record year for abortion restrictions?
Think Progress – INTERACTIVE MAP: The Most Restrictive Abortion Measures In The States
Progressive States Network – Legislator Letter: Support Contraceptive Coverage for All Women

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
View other items from this edition