This has been a big month for abortion rights. In North Dakota, where there is only one abortion clinic, a District Court judge voided a two-year-old set of state restrictions on the use of medications to induce first-trimester abortions. And in Mississippi last Monday, a federal judge blocked some elements of state law intended to shut down the state’s only abortion clinic.
But make no mistake: The competition to shut down “the last clinics” in states with only one clinic is ongoing; call it The Red State Derby. In Mississippi, Arkansas, North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, pro-life groups such as 40 Days for Life are working to bring about “the first abortion-free state where abortion is legal but it’s simply not available.”
Forty years after Roe v. Wade made abortion a constitutional right across the nation individual states are staging subtle and not-so-subtle insurrections, aiming to be the first clinic-less state.
This session, Arkansas passed a ban on abortions after 12 weeks with very limited exceptions. It briefly had banned any abortions after six weeks, according to Julie Rikelman, litigation director at the Center for Reproductive Rights. As Rikelman told me, North Dakota was not to be outdone by Arkansas. So North Dakota recently passed a ban on abortion at six weeks (which is when a fetal heartbeat can be detected) that hasn’t yet taken effect.
In Mississippi, the Red State Derby started to intensify in the spring of 2012. That was when the doctors at Jackson Women’s Health Organization, an abortion clinic in Mississippi’s state capital, were pressured to get admitting privileges at local hospitals. This was impossible: No local hospital would offer the clinic’s two doctors such privileges because the doctors fly in from out of state (partially for their own safety) and thus have no particular relationships with hospitals in the area. Privileges are typically only granted in-state. This pressure simply intensified other prohibitions — that parents of a minor must provide consent; that women must come to the facility twice to get a procedure and wait 24 hours.