There May Soon Be No Place Left in the South for Abortions After the First Trimester

The state of Louisiana often wins the prize when it comes to “most pro-life state” on anti-abortion legislative lists. This year, they may be in the running again. Two major abortion restrictions have passed the legislature — one extending the state’s waiting period between the first clinic visit and actually receiving an abortion from 24 hours to 72 hours, the second banning the method by which almost all abortions after the first trimester are done. Louisiana’s ban on dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortions isn’t the first to hit the nation, which is part of what makes this ban so dangerous. As connecting states continue to pass this law, the ability to access any abortions after the first trimester may completely disappear for women in certain parts of the US.

The D&E abortion ban essentially makes it illegal to perform any abortion in which the cervix is dilated and forceps or other instruments are used to remove the fetus in any way that isn’t all in one piece. It is a procedure that is used in most abortions after about 15 weeks, when the fetus is no longer small enough to just be removed through the cannula using suction. The ban was first introduced in Kansas, where it was signed into law and then blocked by the courts, and later in Oklahoma where the same occurred. West Virginia also passed it, and there has so far been no legal challenge, but the law does not go into effect until the end of May.

Recently, a number of states passed the law within weeks of each other: Mississippi, Alabama and then finally, Louisiana. The passage of the ban in Mississippi was mostly ignored because the state’s only provider doesn’t offer second trimester abortions. The Alabama bill was overshadowed by another piece of legislation that forbids abortion clinics within 2000 feet of a school — a bill which could close the two clinics that perform the vast majority of abortions in the state. And now Louisiana has passed its own, which the governor is expected to sign.

Alabama’s law won’t go into effect until August 1st, and it’s unclear when Louisiana’s would be implemented, but if all three state abortion laws are enforced, the move would leave a path of states all along the Gulf Coast where it would be impossible to obtain an abortion once a patient is past the first trimester. Everyone between Houston or Dallas Texas and Atlanta, Georgia would need to travel to one of those cities if their pregnancies advanced beyond 14 weeks, leaving a literal 800 mile stretch without any second trimester services.

While it’s true that 92 percent of all abortions are performed during the first trimester, second trimester abortion still accounts for almost 7 percent of all abortions, or about 70,000 abortions per year. As clinics close due to new abortion restrictions and states pass longer and longer waiting periods in between appointments, patients who often wanted earlier abortions are finding themselves seeking second trimester procedures instead. Patients who learn about their pregnancies later, or have issues obtaining the money to pay for the abortion are more likely to require a D&E abortion because of advanced gestation. And in the south, where clinics are already sparse, that could become impossible.

When Louisiana and Alabama’s laws go into effect, they very likely will be challenged in court and hopefully, like those challenged prior, will be blocked. Unfortunately, this will in no way be the end of it. According to Texas Right to Life, the entire Texas Republican party has pledged to make a D&E ban a legislative priority. “Good news for Pro-Life and preborn Texans comes from the Republican Party of Texas Convention being held in Dallas last week,” they announced. “The Party has taken a hard line on Pro-Life issues for 2016, including adopting language favoring a Dismemberment Abortion Ban – a bill passed by five other states and a measure Texas Right to Life considers a Legislative Priority for the upcoming legislative session. Pro-Life delegates to the convention showed considerable support for the measure by voting for this specific plank in a convention general session Friday evening. A majority 90 percent of the voting delegates voted to add the Dismemberment Abortion Ban plank in the Party’s 2016 Platform. Convention attendees also showed their support by signing a petition for the Texas Legislature to pursue codification of a law protecting the preborn in the next Texas Legislative Session.”

Unlike the 20 week abortion ban the state already passed, it’s a virtual certainty that Texas providers would challenge a D&E ban, and that would send the bill before the most conservative circuit in the country. A ruling upholding it would likely put the ban in front of the Supreme Court and, if we do end up with a Trump presidency and Trump nominees on the bench, that could be the end of abortions after the first trimester all throughout the South, and potentially all conservative states as well.

Abortion opponents were never able to get the Supreme Court challenge they were hoping for out of the 20 week “fetal pain” bills they crafted, so it’s little wonder that they have created a far more direct and aggressive attack to rally behind this time. And as the legal battle plays out, once more it will be the pregnant people in the least abortion accessible, poorest areas of the country who will be punished.