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NAF 2007 Public Policy Report


Supreme Court Upheld First-Ever Federal Ban on Abortion

On April 18, 2007, the United States Supreme Court turned back the clock on women's health and reproductive rights. In a 5-4 decision that puts politics above women's health, the Court upheld the first-ever federal ban on abortion - called by its sponsors the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The ban contains an exception only to save a woman's life, and does not provide an exception to protect a woman's health. In upholding the ban, the Supreme Court disregarded the expertise of leading doctors and medical organizations that opposed the ban because it threatened women's health. By finding the ban constitutional, the Court undermined a long-standing core principle of Roe v. Wade that women's health must remain paramount and that abortion restrictions require exceptions to preserve a woman's health.

The Court's ruling underscored the urgent need for Congress to take action to protect women's health and a woman's right to make her own reproductive health care decisions. Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) and Representative Joseph Nadler (D-NY) immediately introduced the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) in the United States Senate and House of Representatives. FOCA would restore the rights guaranteed to American women by the Roe v. Wade decision and ensure that women's health would be protected. Women and their doctors would be able to make private medical decisions without the interference of the government.

States also took action the day after the Supreme Court decision. Unfortunately, instead of acting to protect women's health, lawmakers in Michigan and Louisiana introduced legislation banning "partial-birth abortions in their states. Louisiana successfully enacted a new ban, which uses the language of the federal ban, but creates even greater penalties, subjecting physicians who violate the law to hard labor for up to ten years and a fine of up to $100,000. Also, government officials in Virginia, Utah and Missouri have filed appeals to have their enjoined bans on safe abortion procedures reinstated. The court has lifted the injunction in Missouri, while the other cases are pending.

States have also continued to consider broad bans on abortion. During the 2007 legislative session, broad bans on abortion were introduced in 13 states: AL, CO, GA, MO, MS, ND, OH, OK, SC, SD, TX, UT, and VA. Bans with limited exceptions that would take effect if Roe v. Wade were overturned were enacted in Mississippi and North Dakota. However, no outright immediate bans were enacted.

Lawmakers Took Steps to Curb the Deceptive Practices of Crisis Pregnancy Centers

Certain Crisis Pregnancy Centers (CPCs) use deceptive advertising practices to give the appearance that they are legitimate medical clinics that provide a wide range of reproductive health care services, including family planning and abortion care. In reality, most CPCs do not provide full options counseling and generally will not refer for abortion care or birth control. CPCs engaged in deceptive advertising practices have intentionally placed advertisements under the "abortion services" heading of phone and Internet directories, chosen names that are similar to abortion clinics to confuse women about what types of services they provide, and posted misleading advertisements.

In an effort to curtail these deceptive advertising practices, Representative Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) has reintroduced the "Stop Deceptive Advertising for Women's Services Act." This legislation would authorize the Federal Trade Commission to regulate the deceptive advertising practices of CPCs to ensure that they could not be confused with legitimate abortion providers or providers of abortion referrals.

Several states have also taken steps to regulate the false and misleading tactics of CPCs. During the 2007 legislative session, lawmakers in Texas, Oregon, New York, and West Virginia considered legislation regulating the deceptive practices of CPCs in their states.

Advances and Setbacks Occurred Regarding Title X Funding

In December, President Bush signed an omnibus appropriations bill for FY2008 that includes an increase of $16.8 million for the Title X program, which is the third largest increase the program has received in the last 25 years. Title X's family planning services are an essential component of health care and provide education, counseling, contraception, and preventive health screenings to more than 5 million men and women each year. While this funding increase will help many people, there are still millions of uninsured Americans who need access to family planning services.

During the Senate's consideration of the legislation, Senator Vitter (R-LA) offered an amendment that would stop federal funding to providers of reproductive health services if they use money from nonfederal sources to perform abortions. Fortunately, this amendment was defeated by a vote of 41-52.

In December, President Bush signed an omnibus appropriations bill for FY2008 that includes an increase of $16.8 million for the Title X program, which is the third largest increase the program has received in the last 25 years. Title X's family planning services are an essential component of health care and provide education, counseling, contraception, and preventive health screenings to more than 5 million men and women each year. While this funding increase will help many people, there are still millions of uninsured Americans who need access to family planning services.

During the Senate's consideration of the legislation, Senator Vitter (R-LA) offered an amendment that would stop federal funding to providers of reproductive health services if they use money from nonfederal sources to perform abortions. Fortunately, this amendment was defeated by a vote of 41-52.

Also, this legislation levels fund abstinence-only programs, ending a previous link between funding for Title X and abstinence-only education. Ending the relationship between the funding streams of these programs was an important accomplishment as it ensures that comprehensive family planning services may be funded separately from abstinence-only education programs that have questionable effectiveness. While abstinence-only programs continue to receive federal funding, they did not receive the same increase that the Title X program received.

A troubling development occurred with President Bush's October appointment of Dr. Susan Orr to be the Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Population Affairs (DASPA), which oversees Title X. Dr. Orr previously served as the Senior Director for Marriage and Family Care at the Family Research Council (FRC), an organization that has advocated for limited access to contraception. She currently serves on the board of directors for Teen Choice, a nonprofit organization which advocates for abstinence in lieu of contraception. The Secretary of Health and Human Services needs to reconsider this appointment and select a candidate whose goals and positions are consistent with Title X's mission to provide high-quality family planning services to millions of Americans.

State Lawmakers Sought to Intrude on the Doctor-Patient Relationship

In the states in 2007, several bills were introduced that would make it illegal to coerce someone into having an abortion. The language of the bills falsely implies that abortion providers take unfair advantage of women with unplanned pregnancies to coerce them into having abortions, when in fact abortion providers have been pioneers in the informed consent process. These bills would require providers to post a sign or include a statement in their informed consent process that a woman cannot be coerced into having an abortion. Only one state, Arkansas, passed such a bill.

Legislation mandating policies around ultrasounds is yet another intrusion by lawmakers into the doctor-patient relationship. This session, South Carolina was the first state to introduce a bill mandating that women seeking abortions must view an ultrasound before obtaining an abortion. Although this legislation received a significant amount of attention from legislators and the media, it was not enacted during the 2007 session. However, Mississippi passed a law requiring a woman to have an ultrasound, even if not medically necessary, and Georgia and Idaho enacted provisions requiring a provider performing an ultrasound to offer an opportunity to view the ultrasound image.

States Continued to Target Abortion Providers with Onerous Regulations

Targeted Regulation of Abortion Provider (TRAP) laws impose medically unnecessary, politically motivated regulations specifically on abortion providers and not on comparable medical facilities. This year, Missouri enacted a law requiring that any facility that provides more than five first-trimester abortions a month, or any second- or third-trimester abortions, meet the stringent licensure requirements for an "ambulatory surgical center. This law was challenged and is temporarily enjoined from taking effect.

New TRAP regulations also went into effect in Alabama in March, requiring that abortion providers in the state extensively modify their patient care and personnel policies.

In October, the City Council of Manassas, Virginia passed legislation creating a committee to determine whether and what types of regulations on abortion clinics are necessary. Most TRAP legislation has occurred on the state level, so this singling out of the county's lone abortion provider is deeply troubling. Regulations have not yet been promulgated.

Conclusion

While Congress took positive steps in introducing FOCA, CPC legislation, increasing funding for Title X, and de-linking that funding from abstinence-only education, much work remains to be done. The National Abortion Federation will continue to work in 2008 to support measures that expand access to safe and legal reproductive health care services and work against measures that would limit the ability of women to seek safe abortion care. To take action for choice, please sign up for our Act for Choice email list.

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