Whether it’s through hundreds of laws passed at the state level or the recent Hobby Lobby decision that allows companies to deny birth control coverage to employees on religious grounds, the pro-life movement is on a winning streak over access to abortions and birth control.
“It’s kind of like waiting for the other shoe to drop,” said Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager with the Guttmacher Institute, a think-tank focused on sexual and reproductive health policy. “I’m not entirely sure what will happen next.”
Democrats in Congress are hoping to stop the winning streak. On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is holding a hearing on the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2013.
First introduced in November by Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., and a few others, including Sen. Tammy Baldwin, D-Wis., the bill aims to protect access to women’s health care by prohibiting states from passing so-called Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers (TRAP) laws.
These laws impose strict and cost-prohibitive building standards on abortion clinics, require women seeking abortions to have ultrasounds, and create other barriers to abortion access.
The Women’s Health Protection Act is not meant to address restrictions on health insurance coverage for abortion or birth control.
State Rep. Chris Taylor, D-Madison, will be among those testifying in Washington D.C. Tuesday on the need for the bill.
“The bill is a proactive measure to address these restrictive abortion laws that are being passed that have nothing to do with women’s health or women’s safety,” Taylor said. “Instead, the laws being passed are all about limiting and shutting down abortion care in Wisconsin and other states.”
To that point, the Wisconsin Medical Society, Wisconsin Association of Local Health Departments and Boards, Wisconsin Academy of Family Physicians, Wisconsin Hospital Association and the Wisconsin Public Health Association all oppose the ultrasound bill and the bulk of other measures limiting abortion rights passed in Wisconsin.
The lopsided pro-life victories began with the wave of conservative Republicans elected to office in 2010, ushering in a party prone to passing abortion-restrictive legislation.
Between 2011 and 2014, states passed 226 abortion-restrictive laws, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Wisconsin is no exception.
Among other bills, the state passed a law banning medical abortions, a non-surgical alternative to ending a pregnancy that involves taking pills.
It also passed a law in 2013 requiring women seeking abortions to first undergo an ultrasound exam, including an explanation of what appears on the ultrasound monitor. The same bill requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of their clinic.
The admitting privileges portion of the law has been put on hold, pending a ruling by a federal judge that is expected within weeks.
“Right now it seems like we are under relentless attacks,” Nash said. “And the attacks are not just around abortion but contraception as well. And that’s a service most people think should be accessible, because contraception prevents abortions.”
It will be an uphill battle for the Women’s Health Protection Act to become law, which Taylor acknowledges. And Heather Weininger, the new executive director of Wisconsin Right to Life, said the passage of laws is indicative of public opinion.
“What’s happening shows people are not in support of abortion,” Weininger said. “They have worked hard to elect people that reflect their views.”
Nash agrees, saying abortion opponents have put “quite a bit of effort” into developing grassroots organizations that aren’t solely dedicated to opposing abortion, but a broader conservative agenda.
“These groups were ready to push a conservative agenda with the wave of conservative lawmakers in 2010,” Nash said. “It was easy to pass a restrictive agenda (at the state level).”
Depending on whether pro-life Gov. Scott Walker remains in office and the Wisconsin Legislature remains pro-life following the November elections, Weininger said Wisconsin Right to Life will focus its efforts on passing the “fetal no-pain bill.”
That measure would ban abortions after 20 weeks. Taylor said states would not be able to pass bills like the fetal no-pain bill if Congress passes the Women’s Health Protection Act.
“Again, [the fetal no-pain bill] has nothing to do with women’s health or safety,” she said.