For advocates of women’s reproductive rights, 2015 was the definition of “annus horribilis:” marked by tough new limits on abortion, a debilitating Planned Parenthood scandal, and a shooting at a Colorado clinic that left three people dead. For abortion opponents, it was the year when decades of incremental political and legal gains merged into something much bigger. Now 2016 is shaping up to be even more turbulent – perhaps the most momentous year for reproductive issues in a generation.
At the Supreme Court, justices will decide two cases that could dramatically reshape abortion law and gut what remains of the landmark contraception-coverage mandate in President Obama’s health care reform law. In Congress and state legislatures, lawmakers are preparing a torrent of bills inspired by videos purporting to show an unsavory trade in fetal body parts for research. Looming over it all is a presidential race filled with GOP anti-abortion hard-liners and a female Democratic frontrunner who’s made defending reproductive rights a cornerstone of her campaign.
“I don’t think we’ve seen a more critical election cycle,” said Daniel Becker, executive director of the national Personhood Alliance, whose Georgia-based group supports Texas Sen. Ted Cruz, among the most outspoken abortion opponents in the GOP field. “Everything is coming to a head.”
The political and legal pressures have been building since the 2010 elections, which gave Republicans control of the House of Representatives and many legislatures across the country, emboldening abortion opponents. According to a new Guttmacher Institute analysis, states enacted 288 new abortion restrictions from 2011 through 2015 – nearly as many as were passed in the previous 15 years. “Momentum is on the side of life,” a jubilant Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, the organization behind many of the legislative gains of the last…