* Abortion opponents say laws promote safety, better care
* Mississippi could be first state without abortion facility
* Nearly 40 laws passed this year, 60 in 2011
By Emily Le Coz
TUPELO, Miss., July 18 American women face
increasing legal obstacles to obtaining abortions as more states
pass laws restricting access, some so stringent they approach a
ban on the procedure, according to a report issued on Wednesday
by the Center for Reproductive Rights.
The New York-based advocacy group cited nearly 40 laws
enacted across 15 states this year having the potential to
restrict women's access to reproductive health care, nearly 40
years after the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in Roe v. Wade
made the controversial procedure legal.
Among the measures are some the group claims seek to ban
abortion by imposing rules so burdensome upon women and
providers it is nearly impossible to comply.
Mississippi and Tennessee passed such measures this year.
The Center for Reproductive Rights has challenged the
constitutionality of Mississippi's new law, which requires
abortion providers to be certified in obstetrics and gynecology
and have hospital admitting privileges.
A federal judge ruled last week that Mississippi could
enforce the law, but also allowed the state's sole abortion
clinic to continue legally operating while it tries to comply.
Should the law ultimately result in the clinic's closure,
Mississippi would be the first U.S. state without a single
"I think the constitutional protection for women's rights to
choose is robust, but that isn't stopping state legislatures
from introducing terrible legislation and, increasingly, passing
it," said Jordan Goldberg, the center's state advocacy
counsel who authored the report entitled "2012 At the Midpoint:
The Assault Continues."
"I don't think it's a question of the right not existing
anymore," Goldberg said. "It's that we will have to resort to
the courts to protect it."
The report referred to 2012 as the "powerful aftershock"
that followed what it called last year's "seismic" attack on
reproductive rights. More than 60 laws passed in two dozen
states in 2011 seeking to restrict access to women's health
care, according to the report.
But abortion opponents said the laws cited by the Center for
Reproductive Rights aim to protect women from a sometimes
unscrupulous industry peddling substandard care.
DISPUTE OVER QUALITY OF CARE
Fly-by-night abortion providers and dangerous chemical
procedures have forced states to pass the recent legislation,
said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of the department of state
legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, a
grassroots group that works against abortion.
"You're talking about lower-level health care providers,"
Spaulding Balch said.
Particularly troubling is the emergence of "circuit rider"
abortion providers who fly from state to state performing
procedures and leaving as soon as they're done, offering no aid
to patients suffering later complications, she said. Recent laws
requiring abortion providers to have local hospital privileges
are meant to curb such scenarios, Spaulding Balch said.
Mississippi's lone abortion clinic uses out-of-state
physicians. But owner Diane Derzis said women aren't abandoned
after the procedure and can reach a clinic staff member 24 hours
a day in case of complications, which are rare, she said.
Derzis has said the state's new law exists only to close her
clinic, which has struggled to get local admitting privileges
for its doctors. Despite anti-abortion statements by top
Mississippi officials at the time of the bill's passage, its
sponsor, Republican state Representative Sam Mims, said it was
meant to protect women.
Other states cited by the report for their "harmful" laws
are Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Kansas, Louisiana, New Hampshire,
North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Carolina, South Dakota,
Tennessee, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Goldberg attributed the recent rush of laws in part to the
large number of conservative leaders elected during the wave of
anti-government sentiment in 2010. But she predicted a slowdown.
"There have always been these attacks," she said. "We've
seen a backlash this year against the hostility that came out
last year. When people look at what legislatures are doing,
they'll be upset and they'll voice their frustration."
(Editing by Colleen Jenkins and Jackie Frank)