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Here's Proof That the Anti-Abortion Movement Is Winning

Anti-abortion restrictions slowed down in 2014. That's not good news.

Scott Olson/Getty Images News

The Guttmacher Institute reported this month that abortion restrictions are on the decline in 2014, reaching a four-year low. So far this year, 13 states have adopted 21 new laws limiting abortion access, compared to 41 at this point in 2013, 39 in 2012, and a whopping 80 in 2011. A few explanations for the decrease exist. As the report explains, states have shorter sessions during election years. Some states that have successfully passed restrictive laws in recent years, such as Texas, Montana, and Nevada, aren’t in session during even-number years. Additionally, a number of other hot-button issues sprang up this year that took priority during the abbreviated sessions.

But another phenomenon that paints a less hopeful picture for reproductive rights supporters also exists. Though the rate of passage for restrictive laws has slowed down this year, in certain states, this is because much of the damage has already been done. In these states, it seems, the pro-life movement is winning. Reproductive rights were one of many issues for which the 2010 midterms served as a turning point, thanks to the wave of newly elected conservative state legislators taking office around the country. “We’ve seen 226 abortion restrictions enacted over the past four years,” Elizabeth Nash, State Issues Manager at Guttmacher, told me. “That speaks to some states enacting multiple restrictions, and perhaps the urgency in some of those states to adopt further restrictions is just not there.” In other words, the pace of anti-abortion legislation has slowed down not because the movement has stalled, but because they’ve already got much of what they want.

Take Arizona. Arizona hasn’t always been an overwhelmingly pro-life state; Janet Napolitano vetoed numerous abortion restrictions during her 2003-2009 governorship. When Jan Brewer became governor, however, a dramatic shift occurred. Between 2009 and 2012, Governor Brewer signed numerous bills into law that made several changes to abortion regulations: Partial-birth abortions were banned except when necessary to save the mother’s life, notarized parental consent became a requirement for minors seeking an abortion, and women had to meet with a doctor at least 24 hours before a scheduled abortions. The state began to require women to get an ultrasound before an abortion and banned telemedicine abortions. That summary isn’t even exhaustive. Though the breakneck speed at which Arizona passed abortion restrictions between 2009 and 2012 hasn’t stopped entirely, it has since slowed significantly in the past year and a half. Despite setbacks like its failure to defund Planned Parenthood, the pro-life campaign in Arizona is succeeding. The state currently has seven abortion clinics, down from 19 in 2010.

Other states have followed a comparable trajectory. “We’ve seen something similar in that we saw states such as Oklahoma, Indiana, Kansas adopt multiple restrictions in 2011 and 2012 and have a bit of a dropoff in 2013, 2014,” said Nash. Anti-choice crusaders in these states have gotten a lot of what they want.

Targeted regulations of abortion providers, or TRAP laws, play a part in anti-choice crusaders’ success. TRAP laws are burdensome and unnecessary legislation designed to shut abortion clinics down. They take on a range of forms: adding unnecessary regulations to abortion clinics (such as facility requirements like increased hallway width), charging an exorbitant fee to register a clinic in the state, or designating abortion clinics as hospitals without medical justification. Other types of clinics are not subject to these levels of scrutiny. Since 2000, Arizona and Indiana have added TRAP laws, and Oklahoma has increased the scope of its previously existing TRAP restrictions. Overall, TRAP laws have more than doubled since 2000, another indication of the pro-life movement’s influence in certain states.

Pro-life publications, in addition to publications like Vox and TIME, maintain the movement is succeeding in redrawing the borders of legal abortion in the United States, citing states such as Mississippi, South Dakota, North Dakota, Wyoming, and Arkansas (and more recently, Missouri) that only have one abortion clinic. Blue and purple states aren’t in danger of losing abortion access, but states like Mississippi might be. Yesterday, judges for the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled that a law that would have shuttered the state's sole remaining clinic could not be enforced. But similar laws in other states have been upheld, and the prospects for clinics struggling to maintain a foothold in hostile areas are uncertain.