COLUMBIA - States around the country enacted the fewest number of abortion restrictions this year since 2010, mirroring the recent legislative session in South Carolina when such efforts were largely stalled, according to a new study from the sexual and reproductive health rights research group Guttmacher Institute.
This year, 13 states have adopted 21 new restrictions designed to limit access to abortions, according to the Guttmacher study that focused on state-level abortion restrictions. That compares with a high of 80 restrictions nationwide in 2011. Guttmacher has offices in Washington, DC and New York.
South Carolina was also one of three states, including Connecticut and New Mexico, to expand requirements for sex education. While an effort in the S.C. Legislature to require schools to teach medically accurate sexual education did not pass, a recently passed bill requires students from kindergarten through 12th grade to receive instruction in sexual abuse and assault awareness and prevention. The bill, H. 4061, passed with little opposition in the House and Senate and takes effect in September 2015.
While other sexual education reform and abortion issues took center stage during this year's legislative session, the sexual assault awareness requirement "flew under the radar," said Ashley Crary of the South Carolina Coalition for Healthy Families, which advocates on reproductive health issues.
Crary said her group is working to help develop a curriculum around sexual abuse for each grade level. Material for each grade level will be age appropriate so younger children aren't exposed to explicit material, she said.
Large-scale pushes in past years likely contributed to fewer abortion restrictions passing this year, Crary said. Now, the continued effort by anti-abortion advocates to overturn the landmark abortion U.S. Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade, which guaranteed a constitutional right to abortion, is making its way through the courts.
Pastor Kevin Baird of Charleston Legacy Church has said legislators should work to undermine abortion in any way they can. "Who speaks for them?" Baird asked of the approximately 7,000 abortions in South Carolina last year. "They are not a voting bloc. None of them are going to go up to the subcommittee and give testimony. They have no recourse or appeal considering their sentences. They are at our mercy."
Elizabeth Nash, a Guttmacher researcher, said there were myriad reasons why states passed fewer abortion-related restrictions this year, including that some states Legislatures did not meet and it was an election year. In South Carolina, a lot of abortion restrictions are already on the books. Also, other issues across the country and in South Carolina took up time during legislative sessions, including the expansion of Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act and the repeal of Common Core education standards, Nash said.
Nash said she expects abortion-related issues to be raised more prominently come next year. So-called "personhood" legislation, which would give legal rights to unborn children, has been introduced in South Carolina for 16 years in a row.
"Right after an election year is when legislators really focus on abortion," Nash said.
Reach Jeremy Borden at 708-5837.