- The Washington Times - Sunday, January 8, 2012

State lawmakers added a record 92 restrictions on abortion in 2011, ranging from bans on most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation to changes in rules governing abortion clinics, the Guttmacher Institute said Friday.

“In 2011, nearly three times as many abortion restrictions were enacted, compared with any other previous year,” said Elizabeth Nash, manager of Guttmacher Institute’s team that tracks state issues.

“The piling on of restriction after restriction is particularly concerning, as it may signal reduced access to abortion for many women, and could impair women’s ability to successful plan their future pregnancies,” said Ms. Nash. Women most likely to be affected, she added, “are those that have the least ability to navigate these obstacles - poor women, women of color and young women.”

When the 50 state legislatures are taken together, lawmakers introduced more than 1,100 provisions in 2011 - a sharp increase over the 950 introduced in 2010, Guttmacher said in its new report. The institute counts each discrete element of a law as a provision, since laws typically have multiple sections.

Several of the 92 new restrictions are not in effect, pending court rulings, said the institute, formerly an arm of Planned Parenthood.

However, most are in force, including laws in Arizona, Florida and Kansas requiring an abortion provider to offer a pregnant woman the opportunity to view an ultrasound image of her fetus or listen to a verbal description of the image.

Five states - Alabama, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas and Oklahoma - joined Nebraska in passing laws outlawing abortion after 20 weeks based on the premise that fetuses can feel pain at that stage of development. Nebraska passed its first-in-the-nation “fetal pain” law in 2010.

However, Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a Democrat, vetoed similar legislation, said the institute, which called the idea that a fetus can feel pain by 20 weeks a “spurious assertion.”

Virginia and three other states also set new rules for abortion clinics; in Virginia, an outpatient clinic that does at least five abortions a month must upgrade to meet state hospital regulations and permit inspections.

In addition, seven states rejected the use of “telemedicine” in medication-induced abortion. In the telemedicine approach, abortion providers use remote communication, like Skype, to guide a patient on how to use a drug like mifepristone to give herself an abortion. Now in Arizona, Kansas, Nebraska, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota and Tennessee, the physician prescribing such a drug must be in the same room as the patient.

The “most high-profile state-level abortion of debate” was in Mississippi, where voters were asked in November to consider a constitutional amendment on the “personhood” of people from the moment of fertilization, Guttmacher Institute said. Voters rejected the amendment, 58 percent to 42 percent. Had it passed, the institute said, the amendment would have set the stage “to ban all abortions and, potentially, most hormonal contraceptive methods in the state.”

This battle will continue in 2012: Other personhood amendments - which supporters say will establish a right to life to all humans from conception until natural death - are being promoted in several states, including Colorado, Nevada and Ohio.

• Cheryl Wetzstein can be reached at cwetzstein@washingtontimes.com.

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