Stop Making Empty Laws, Start Focusing on Prevention

A number of states have passed new anti-choice restrictions this month that do more to limit women’s access to care than they do to reduce the rate and incidence of abortion. In particular, the recent laws advancing in Mississippi and Florida highlight the ongoing need for more prevention efforts.

Last week, Mississippi Governor Phil Bryant signed a law that bans abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, with no exceptions for rape or incest.  However, the state of Mississippi has only one abortion provider, and that provider does not perform any abortions after 16 weeks.  In addition, such 20 week bans explicitly contradict Supreme Court precedent and have consistently been struck down when challenged in court. In other words, not only is this law unconstitutional,  but it will waste taxpayer dollars and will  have absolutely no practical effect in Mississippi.

Now, the Florida legislature has passed its own new abortion restrictions.  A law waiting for Governor Rick Scott’s approval would outlaw abortion at the point of viability, typically 23 weeks or later.  While the Florida legislation likely is constitutional, it similarly functions to address a problem that doesn’t exist.  There were no abortions performed after 24 weeks in Florida last year, and only 9% of abortions in the state were performed in the second trimester (after 13 weeks).  

In practice, then, both laws function as unnecessary oversight and useful election rhetoric for social conservatives.  They are empty political gestures that do not benefit a single person.  All voters, and all Republicans should take issue with such a gratuitous example of unnecessary government overreach that comes at the expense of the taxpayer.

What if, however, our elected leaders actually did something to reduce the rate of abortion?  What if, instead of spending time and taxpayer money debating and enacting bills that do nothing, lawmakers devoted that time to preventing unintended pregnancy in the first place?

Prevention is possible, and it is time to demand more from our legislators.  All voters support reducing the incidence of abortion, and we should all agree that our legislators need to do something about it.   The Mississippi law will not prevent any abortions, but comprehensive sex education (that includes abstinence) will.  Florida is unlikely to see a reduction in their abortion rate, but they would if they increased access to contraception instead of decreasing access to abortion.

Voters of all viewpoints should be upset that these empty laws continue to pass.  So instead of allowing politicians to score points off women’s health and waste our money while pretending to act, we must hold them to a higher standard and demand that they actually do something.  Prevention is the only way to reduce the rate of abortion, and it should be our first priority.  

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