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More states restrict abortions; group says trend 'unparalleled'

By Michael Martinez, CNN
  • Kansas bans abortions after 21 weeks under "fetal pain" law
  • Arizona bans tax credits for donations to Planned Parenthood
  • Abortion rights group Guttmacher Institute says "hostility" to abortion is sweeping statehouses

(CNN) -- As two states imposed the latest rounds of laws against abortion or its providers this week, a new study contends "hostility" toward abortion rights is on the rise in legislatures across the country, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

The trend has been buoyed by GOP victories in last year's elections, as well as how federal health care reform encouraged states to adopt their own laws regarding abortion coverage under plans offered by health exchanges, said Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy group for abortion rights.

"It's pretty much an all-out, anti-abortion, free-for-all out there," Nash told CNN. "I've been doing this for almost 12 years now, so I feel like I have some historical sense. This year is just unlike any other year we've seen before."

Add the success of states' anti-abortion laws passed in the last couple of years with the Republican sweep of statehouses last fall, "and you end up with a year that is unparalleled in what we have been seeing in regard to abortion restrictions," Nash said.

Just this week, Kansas became the second state in the nation, following Nebraska, to sign a "fetal pain" law that bans abortions after 21 weeks based on the viewpoint that "fetuses can feel pain beginning after the 21st week of pregnancy," according to a statement by Republican Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback's office.

Brownback also signed into law Tuesday a bill requiring minors who seek abortions to obtain consent from both parents. The law also places certain prohibitions on late-term and partial birth abortions.

New law: Wait 72 hours before abortion

Meanwhile, in Arizona, Gov. Jan Brewer, a Republican, also signed into law Tuesday a ban on state tax credits for donations to Planned Parenthood or other abortion providers. The law also prohibits public funding for abortion training at universities and hospitals for physicians, said state Rep. Debbie Lesko, a Republican who was the prime sponsor of the new laws.

Lesko disputed Guttmacher's characterization that a trend of "hostility" against abortion is running through state legislatures.

"I certainly wouldn't say there's hostility," Lesko told CNN. "I think it's a severe word. I think it's passionate. Pro-life people are passionate about what they believe in. They believe that the fetus is a human, and they do not believe it should be killed."

Lesko called the ban on tax credits for Planned Parenthood -- which is also being considered in Kansas -- as closing "a loophole" in state laws.

"Planned Parenthood was opposed to this bill," Lesko said. "If they truly want the money to be used for other services besides abortions, they could set up a whole other business entity that wouldn't have anything to do with abortion."

A Planned Parenthood Arizona leader said the law discriminates against his organization. The tax credit allowed for donations to fundamental safety-net health care, such as annual gynecological exams, breast cancer screenings and Pap smears, the group said.

"This bill discourages generous, community-minded Arizonans from giving to Planned Parenthood, where their money is being used to provide low-income women, men and teens with essential health care," Bryan Howard, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Arizona, said in a statement. "Abortion services are not funded by these donations. There are other funds provided by donors specifically for abortion care."

Planned Parenthood suggests the measure won't stand legally, saying the Arizona and U.S. Supreme Courts have ruled that tax credits are private contributions not owed to the state and aren't public funds because they pass directly from taxpayer to private organization.

Because the new Arizona law also prohibits tax credits to any organization that even provides referrals to abortion providers, it will "gag" other charitable organizations such as domestic violence agencies from referring their clients to Planned Parenthood Arizona, the group said.

"Ninety percent of the services Planned Parenthood Arizona provides are prevention health care and education," Howard said. "Women and families of Arizona should not have their access to this life-saving care overlooked because of a politically motivated bill."

In a statement to CNN, Brewer said government should never allow public funds or tax credits to subsidize abortion providers or train medical professionals to perform abortions.

"I look forward to the day when there is enough support in the Congress and White House to emulate Arizona's example," Brewer said.

Arizona's ban against state taxpayers taking a credit for donations to Planned Parenthood and other groups serving the working poor comes after a congressional Republican effort failed this month to strip $317 million in federal funding from Planned Parenthood.

At the same time, congressional Democrats turned back Republican attempts to get federal dollars currently set aside for family planning and women's health turned into block grants for states -- which would give states more ability to cut services opposed by conservatives.

Now, states are taking up anti-abortion measures on their own initiative -- and enjoying success, according to Guttmacher's Nash.

Brownback called his signing of this week's two abortion restrictions "an historic day."

"So many determined people have worked long and hard to get these bills passed and I am happy to sign them into law," Brownback said in a statement. "These bills are a reflection of the culture of life that is being embraced all across Kansas. They represent a mainstream, bipartisan and common-sense approach to a divisive issue."

Sixteen other states are now considering a law patterned after Nebraska's law, one of the most stringent abortion restrictions in recent years, according to a Guttmacher report this week.

In those 16 states plus Kansas, a total of 35 proposals were introduced, and 27 of them paralleled Nebraska's abortion ban beginning at 20 weeks. Two would ban abortion beginning at 18 weeks, and the other six would restrict abortion after 22 weeks, according to the Guttmacher report.

Twenty-nine of the bills allow "the extremely narrow health exception included in the Nebraska law," according to the Guttmacher report. The other six measures would permit "a slightly broader exception," typically permitting abortion where the woman's mental health is threatened.

The states seeking laws mirroring Nebraska's are Idaho, Indiana, Iowa and Oklahoma, where at least one legislative chamber in those states has already passed a similar measure, Nash said.

"They want to ban abortion in any way they can: if they can do it at 20 weeks, they will do it at 20 weeks," Nash said. "There are other scientific reports that say fetuses cannot feel pain at 20 weeks.

"It flies in the face of Supreme Court holdings," Nash added. "What the Supreme Court has said is you cannot ban abortion beyond viability. What's different about these bans is that they are much earlier than viability, which tends to be between 24 and 28 weeks."

Every fetus develops differently, Nash said, "so using a specific cutoff doesn't make sense."