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States' Abortion Legislation Questioned By Critics

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States' Abortion Legislation Questioned By Critics


States' Abortion Legislation Questioned By Critics

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In several states, legislatures are considering new abortion restrictions. Some would require longer waiting periods to get an abortion. Others would direct doctors to perform an ultrasound of the fetus, and show it to a pregnant woman. These developments follow the elections last November that brought many new social conservatives into office. NPR's Kathy Lohr reports.

KATHY LOHR: In South Dakota, women seeking abortions will now have to wait 72 hours after their initial visit to a clinic before having the procedure. That's if Governor Dennis Daugaard signs the newly passed bill that also requires counseling at a crisis pregnancy center. Valerie Johnson is with South Dakota Right to Life.

Ms. VALERIE JOHNSON (Education coordinator, South Dakota Right to Life): We already know that it's an unborn child, you know, that's being aborted. And a 72-hour wait time is certainly not too much to consider when you're taking the life of an unborn child.

LOHR: Johnson called the counseling at a crisis pregnancy center, quote: a free second opinion.

Ms. SARAH STOESZ (President and CEO, Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota): This is not a second opinion.

LOHR: Sarah Stoesz is with Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota. She says crisis pregnancy centers do not provide unbiased counseling.

Ms. STOESZ: The mission of a crisis pregnancy center is to talk women out of having abortions. That's not the same thing as offering an opinion.

LOHR: Most states require a 24-hour waiting period. Stoesz says a longer period would mean several trips to a clinic, which for some women in this rural state is hours away. Governor Daugaard is expected to sign the bill.

At least 20 states have passed laws that require doctors either to offer women ultrasounds, or to perform one. Seven others are now considering bills that would mandate the ultrasound.

In Texas, the House and Senate have passed two versions of a bill requiring sonograms before women could have abortions. Doctors would also have to offer to show women the image, provide a detailed description, and allow women to hear a heartbeat if one is audible.

Sarah Wheat is with Planned Parenthood of Texas.

Ms. SARAH WHEAT (Director, public affairs, Planned Parenthood of the Texas Capital Region): This bill is one of the most invasive bills in the U.S. And at the end of the day, it doesn't make women healthier, and it doesnt help prevent the need for abortion.

LOHR: Wheat says the bills amount to government intrusion into a private medical decision. A similar measure, which passed in Oklahoma last year,is now being challenged in court.

But Elizabeth Graham, with Texas Right to Life, sees the bill as an expansion of the informed-consent process, and something widely supported by state legislators.

Ms. ELIZABETH GRAHAM (Director, Texas Right to Life): The time is right, and we have the votes. And the language has been streamlined to really be effective and to protect the rights of women when theyre in abortion clinics, considering an abortion.

LOHR: Texas Governor Rick Perry has made the bill a priority, and he has promised to sign whatever compromise version is passed.

Abortion rights activists say these bills show a renewed vigor by states to enact more limitations on abortion. They point to Ohio, where lawmakers are debating a bill that would ban abortions if a fetal heartbeat is detected.

Earlier this month, two pregnant women got ultrasounds before a packed committee hearing room. The images were displayed on a screen while Ducia Hamm, with the Ashland Care Center, provided commentary - even as technicians struggled to find the heartbeat of a 9-week-old fetus.

Ms. DUCIA HAMM (Executive Director, Ashland Care Center): And again, I apologize but babies do their own thing, and they are moving. So you see that this is an active, growing baby. This is not just a blob or something that's just kind of sitting there, doing nothing.

LOHR: Abortion rights activists have called the bill a stunt, and say it would amount to an outright ban on abortion. Some suggest newly elected legislators in Ohio and other states just want to test the waters when it comes to abortion.

Elizabeth Nash is with the Guttmacher Institute, which tracks abortion laws.

Ms. ELIZABETH NASH (Public Policy Associate, Guttmacher Institute): This past November, a whole new crop of state legislators came into office, and these legislators tend to be more conservative. And they're not only pushing the envelope on abortion restrictions; they're even taking it further, to try new approaches to restricting abortion.

LOHR: In Ohio, the state Right to Life group does not support the fetal heartbeat bill. The group says if it passes, it would be overturned in court. And it's likely the measures in both South Dakota and Texas will also face legal challenges.

Kathy Lohr, NPR News.

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