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Sunday October 20th, 2019 5:54PM

Abortion-rights supporters push back against gains by foes

By The Associated Press
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Foes of abortion have pushed through several hundred state laws restricting access to the procedure over the past decade. This year, as never before, abortion-rights supporters are fighting back nationwide with proposals to protect and expand access to abortion and contraception.

Successes are most likely in the dozen or so states where Democrats control policymaking. But the initiatives unfolding this year aspire to at least raise the issue of reproductive rights even in conservative states that have passed the toughest anti-abortion laws.

In January, more than 200 legislators from 41 states formed the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council to promote "a bold, unapologetic stance in favor of abortion rights." Among its leaders are lawmakers from Missouri, Arizona and Georgia — states that show no sign of softening their multiple restrictions on abortion.

On Tuesday, Planned Parenthood announced an initiative of its own aimed at promoting reproductive health care initiatives in all 50 states over the coming months.

Several of the measures cited by Planned Parenthood have already been introduced. They include:

— A bill in Maine that would allow nurse practitioners and physician's assistants — as well as doctors — to perform abortions. It's intended to increase access to abortion for women in remote rural areas.

— A bill in New Jersey that would restore state funding for Planned Parenthood that was stripped away by former Republican Gov. Chris Christie. Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy, who succeeded Christie in January, has promised to sign the bill.

— A measure in Rhode Island that would repeal existing restrictions on abortion and seek to safeguard access in the face of possible anti-abortion initiatives by President Donald Trump's administration.

— A bill in California, already approved by the Senate, that would make the state the first to require public universities to make abortion pills available on campuses. It is pending in the state Assembly.

Dawn Laguens, Planned Parenthood's executive vice president, said the multistate campaign marked a shift to the offensive after a long stretch on defense combating federal and state efforts to defund Planned Parenthood and curtail access to abortion.

"We need to do more than just fight against the bad policies; now is the time to push for good ones," Laguens said.

Some of the measures cited by Planned Parenthood stand virtually no chance of passage — for example, a measure in Missouri seeking to repeal the state's mandatory 72-hour waiting period before a woman can get an abortion. In some other Republican-controlled states, such as Tennessee, Planned Parenthood's allies are proposing bills that deal with birth control access, not abortion.

And on Thursday, the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit challenging an Ohio law prohibiting doctors from performing abortions based on a diagnosis of Down syndrome.

The abortion-rights initiatives coincide with a continuing push for tougher anti-abortion legislation in many GOP-controlled states. A pending measure in Mississippi would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy; a Missouri bill would ban them after 20 weeks.

Americans United for Life, one of the groups engaged in promoting anti-abortion bills, says it is consulting with lawmakers in more than 20 states this year.

"The momentum has been on the pro-life side for quite some time," said AUL's president, Catherine Glenn Foster. "We expect that trend to continue."

A spokeswoman for another anti-abortion group, Mallory Quigley of the Susan B. Anthony List, said its movement "will not cede an inch to the extreme abortion lobby."

The abortion-rights camp takes heart from some legislative victories achieved in 2017. Oregon moved to require health insurers to provide birth control and abortion without a copay, while the Republican governor in Illinois, where Democrats control the legislature, signed a bill expanding abortion coverage for women on Medicaid.

Because of increasing restrictions in many conservative states, abortion clinics in several states without such barriers, including Colorado and New Mexico, are experiencing an influx of women crossing state lines to access abortion. As of yet, according to Planned Parenthood, this is not a phenomenon that has been explicitly addressed in legislation.

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