Center’s 2020 Legislative Wrap-Up Outlines Abortion Measures Passed in U.S. States

As in past years, state laws restricting abortion access outnumbered those increasing access.


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center for reproductive rights legislative wrapup 2020The Center for Reproductive Rights has published its 2020 Legislative Wrap-up, providing a report on state abortion laws enacted during the year. 

As states were forced to confront the COVID-19 pandemic, economic upheaval, and a racial reckoning, fewer reproductive rights measures were introduced in 2020 than in 2019. However, as in previous years, laws restricting access to abortion care outnumbered those protecting or increasing access to care. 

“State lawmakers hostile to abortion rights continued their attacks on people’s ability to access care,” said Elisabeth Smith, the Center’s Chief Counsel for State Policy & Advocacy. “This underscores the urgent need to enact measures—on both state and federal levels—to safeguard abortion access.” 

Numerous Abortion Restrictions Passed
The 2020 Legislative Wrap-up details enacted restrictive measures designed to impede access to care. Some directly challenge Roe v. Wade in an attempt to develop cases that might reach the U.S. Supreme Court with its new conservative-leaning majority. Such restrictions, and the states and territories that enacted them, include:

  • Trigger bans—Idaho, Utah
  • Reason bans and method bans—Mississippi, Nebraska
  • Fetal tissue cremation mandates—Indiana, Utah
  • Personhood laws—West Virginia, Puerto Rico
  • Waiting periods—Iowa 
  • Provider harassment—Oklahoma 
  • Parental consent—Florida 
  • Mandatory reporting—Louisiana 
  • Funding for fake “crisis pregnancy centers”—Idaho

In addition, Tennessee passed the year’s most comprehensive attack on abortion access, which includes cascading gestational bans and several additional restrictions. The Center and its partners are currently challenging the Tennessee law and many other state measures that violate our constitutional right to abortion. 

Exploiting the Pandemic to Block Abortion Care
Nine states attempted to exploit the COVID-19 pandemic to block access to abortion services by defining abortion as  “nonessential,” “elective,” or “non-urgent.” The Center for Reproductive Rights and its partners filed emergency lawsuits in multiple states, fighting to protect access to this essential, time-sensitive care.

Two Proactive Bills Enacted
In Virginia, after years of legislative advocacy, the state enacted the Reproductive Health Protection Act that removed many state restrictions such as forced ultrasounds, mandatory waiting periods, targeted regulations of abortion providers (TRAP laws), and other measures. 

“This is a huge step forward for pregnant people in Virginia and the providers who care for them, who have long endured and persevered under the medically unnecessary restrictions this law has repealed,” said Agata Pelka, Senior State Legislative Counsel at the Center. 

The District of Columbia also enacted a proactive bill, amending its Human Rights Act of 1977 to recognize the right to abortion.

Also covered in the 2020 Legislative Wrap-up are state ballot initiatives, the impact of the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision in the Center’s June Medical Services v. Russo case, and the confirmation of Justice Amy Coney Barrett—an outspoken opponent of reproductive rights—to replace a champion of reproductive rights and equality, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

Looking Ahead
Looking ahead, 2021 promises to be another year of uncertainty, as federal and state governments respond to the pandemic, economic recession and job loss, and racial justice. While control of the U.S. Senate will not be determined until the January 5 runoff elections in Georgia, the House of Representatives will remain in the control of a majority of pro-reproductive rights officials. The election of Joseph R. Biden, Jr., as President and Kamala Harris as Vice President will bring a new administration that recognizes reproductive rights and health—and the Center is hopeful that it will start to undo the damage done by the Trump-Pence administration’s anti-reproductive rights policies. 

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