2012: U.S. in Review


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Put 2012 against any year since the U.S. Supreme Court decided Roe v. Wade, in 1973, and you would be hard pressed to find a period that offered as many highs and lows as the past 12 months.

Let's start with the highlights.

  • American voters sent President Obama back to the White House after he made women's rights and reproductive rights a centerpiece of his campaign.
  • The U.S. Supreme Court upheld President Obama's signature piece of legislation, the Affordable Care Act (ACA), ensuring for the first time that millions of women will get access to the contraception that is critical to their health and well-being.
  • Congress finally corrected a gross injustice by lifting 17-year-old restrictions on insurance coverage of abortion care in cases of rape and incest for servicewomen and military family members.

Just as important as any of these advances, 2012 saw legislators, advocates, and everyday people come together to make their voices heard. Their collective urgency united with the Center's Draw the Line campaign. Nearly 200,000 people—and counting—put their names to the Bill of Reproductive Rights, demanding that the government take politics out of women's health care.

Look behind all these signs of progress, though, and it's clear that the assault on women's reproductive rights continues to flourish. The Center's report—Reproductive Rights in 2012: A Look Back at the States—documents the more than 40 laws, passed by 19 states, designed to choke off access to constitutionally protected reproductive health care. Only set against the record-breaking assault of 2011, with more than 90 laws passed, does 2012 seem not quite so horrible.

The Center took dead aim at some of the most egregious pieces of legislation, including Arizona's brazenly unconstitutional ban on abortion at a time when many women undergo critical prenatal testing to evaluate their own health and the status of their pregnancy. This law is reckless and will threaten women's lives if it goes into effect.

So far, that hasn\'t happened. After deflecting a setback in federal district court, the Center secured a preliminary injunction against the law in the 9 th Circuit Court of Appeals in August, and the case is still pending.

Mississippi, like Arizona, has a long history of anti-woman legislation. In 2012, legislators hoped to set the state apart from the rest of the country by closing down its last abortion clinic. And the anti-choice extremists behind the law were quite public with their goal.

They passed a law requiring doctors performing abortions at a clinic to get admitting privileges at a local hospital. Why? Because those legislators knew that it wasn\'t possible, and that they could close the last clinic, in Jackson, MS, with this unnecessary regulation.

The Center has been able to stop this from happening. A federal judge partially blocked the law to see if any hospitals would grant the clinic's doctors privileges. But the doctors have been refused everywhere, and the Center is currently asking the court to block enforcement of the law in its entirety until our case is resolved.

In Oklahoma, extremists tried to push a "personhood" amendment to the state's constitution onto the ballot for November's election. Personhood would grant legal status to a fertilized egg, consequently banning abortion, and effectively banning many forms of contraception and even certain types of fertility treatment.

The Center stopped this ballot initiative in its tracks, securing a ruling from the Oklahoma Supreme Court that decided that the initiative was "clearly unconstitutional." The U.S. Supreme Court subsequently declined to review the case.

These victories are critical for hundreds of thousands of women in Arizona, Mississippi, and Oklahoma. But anti-choice forces continue to churn out invasive legislation at a frightening clip. In 2012, four states banned coverage of abortion services from the health insurance exchanges soon to be in place under  the ACA. Wisconsin and Michigan cut off rural and low-income women from better health care by banning the use of telemedicine for medication abortion. Three states made it easier for different types of health care providers to refuse reproductive health care to patients. And states continue to target abortion providers with onerous laws designed to put them out of business.

At the same time, inspiration can be taken from the growing number of people who are standing up for reproductive rights, and declaring that they have had enough of elected officials interfering with a woman's essential health care. This surge of energy and commitment is absolutely vital, because we have a long, tough fight ahead. It's a movement we will continue to support and lead—in the courts, in Washington, D.C., and around the globe—in 2013 and far beyond.