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State Legislatures Stay Busy On Abortion Laws

2011 was a banner year for state laws restricting abortion. And 2012 looks like runner-up.

That's the central finding of the midyear report from the Guttmacher Institute, the reproductive policy research group that keeps track of such things.

There were 39 laws restricting abortion enacted in the first half of 2012. While that's less than half the 80 put in place during the first half of last year, the number of laws already on the books for 2012 is higher than any other year before 2011.

Among the popular targets this year are:

  • Restrictions on medication abortions (passed by three states);
  • Banning abortion prior to fetal viability (also passed by three states); and,
  • Limiting coverage of abortion by insurance policies participating in health exchanges that will sell policies under the new health law starting in 2014 (passed by four states).

And while some bills that got a lot of attention didn't pass –- such as ones to ban abortion beginning when a fetal heartbeat can be detected in Ohio, or one requiring a transvaginal ultrasound in Virginia — remarkably similar ones did make it through in other states with far less fanfare.

It seems a new law in Louisiana that requires abortion providers to make the fetal heartbeat audible to women seeking an abortion necessitates a transvaginal ultrasound for many first trimester procedures. One in Oklahoma requires that women be given the opportunity to hear a fetal heartbeat before the procedure.

Guttmacher researchers suggest a few reasons for the slightly slower pace. "Election year sessions tend to be shorter, and focus more and bread-and butter issues, as opposed to social issues," they wrote. "In addition, mirroring the situation nationally, legislatures in states such as New Hampshire and Indiana appear to be in near-total gridlock, seeming able to tackle only 'essential' issue relating to spending and basic state services."

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