For the past five years, conservative politicians have steadily eroded women's access to reproductive health care services and waged a relentless attack on safe and legal abortion services.
This fact—most obviously represented in the shuttering of abortion clinics nationwide, or in the marked increase in medically unnecessary restrictions like mandatory waiting periods—seems daunting in general. The specifics of it are even more intimidating: In the past five years, 288 anti-abortion laws have been passed, 57 of them in 2015 alone. And while isolated and egregious incidents often receive the majority of media coverage (Texas, Mississippi), the truth is that women across the country are losing control over their own bodies at an alarming rate.
This month, the Population Institute released its annual 50-state report card on the status of reproductive health and rights in the US. The report measures effectiveness at preventing unwanted pregnancies, access to comprehensive sex ed and emergency contraception, affordability of birth control, and access to abortion and family planning services. This year, the nation's grade, overall, has slipped from a C to a D+. In addition, an alarming 19 states received a failing grade (up from 15 last year and nine in 2012). The state with the lowest score, Louisiana, received an abysmal 21.3 out of 100.
Jennie Wetter, the director of public policy for the Population Institute, said that the expansion of laws that unfairly target abortion providers with the intent of forcing them to shut down—commonly known as TRAP laws—was partly to blame for the US's continuously plummeting score. This year in particular, she noted, the targeted and increasingly violent attacks on Planned Parenthood created a "toxic" environment for reproductive health care. "There have always been attacks on Planned Parenthood, but this year it just seemed to be this whole extra level," she told Broadly over the phone. "You were seeing attacks become not just verbal, but clinics getting burned or vandalized… eventually the shooting in Colorado. I think it has created this atmosphere [that's] priming the pump for more bad things to happen."
In 2015, the House of Representatives voted seven times to defund Planned Parenthood, despite assurance of a presidential veto. On January 7, they voted an eighth time to strip the reproductive health organization of federal funding.
There have always been attacks on Planned Parenthood, but this year it just seemed to be this whole extra level.
This year, Wetter said, the US is on a dangerous precipice: The Supreme Court will hear a case about Texas's onerous abortion regulations, determining whether it's constitutional to impose restrictions on reproductive health care that could effectively shutter over half the abortion providers in the state. "The scary thing is, if [the Supreme Court] decides that that is constitutional, it can just lead to an avalanche of states enacting more of these laws and really making abortion a constitutional right in name only," she said. "Women just aren't going to have access to the services. If there's no access, is it still really a right?"
In a statement, Population Institute president Robert Walker affirmed this point. "At the state level the trend is particularly worrisome," he said. "Increasingly, the reproductive health of a woman depends on the state or community where she lives. That's wrong as a matter of both rights and health."
In many of the 19 states with failing grades, politicians are simultaneously limited access to abortion services, contraception, and mandatory sexual education, creating a situation in which women are unable to access methods of preventing unwanted pregnancies or terminate those unwanted pregnancies once they occur. In Louisiana, for instance, there's no mandated sex ed in public schools, no Medicaid coverage for abortion, several abortion restrictions in place—including a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling, and a 20-week abortion ban—and, unsurprisingly, a high rate of teen pregnancy. According to Wetter, 60 percent of pregnancies in the state are unplanned.
"A lot of people know what's happening in Texas or some of the other really big states, but a lot of people don't know what's happening at home," Wetter said. "People are so unaware of what's happening in their own state. That's what really got us to start doing the report card: so people could see that it's a national-level discussion, but the real battleground is everybody's home states."