A handful of conservative states have been passing laws testing the limits of abortion rights established by Roe v. Wade. Alabama and Indiana are about to join them, with fresh legislation waiting for signatures on their governors' desks.
A spokeswoman for Planned Parenthood said Thursday that the laws are the tip of the iceberg in a broader assault on a woman's right to choose.
"Bills like these have been introduced in 42 states. This is a whole new level of attack on women's health," said Staci Fox, who heads the organization's Southeast division.
Some of the states that have already passed new laws did so in anticipation of legal challenges and have already shored up war chests to fund the battles.
"This level of hostility is a wake-up call for women around the country," Fox said.
Two types of laws
Some states have passed laws that blatantly go against parts of the Supreme Court ruling that struck down state abortion bans in 1973 and made it legal in the United States. Others use portions of the Roe v. Wade ruling to make it harder for abortion clinics to operate.
Fox has dealt with the latter kind in Mississippi and is anticipating a similar one soon in Alabama. The laws put abortions out of reach, she said, although on the surface they would seem to promote the health of a woman seeking the procedure.
"One of them is called the Women's Health and Safety Act," she said with a sense of irony.
Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley is expected to put his signature on a new bill soon that drastically raises the safety requirements for abortion clinics to operate.
The measure passed by overwhelming majorities in both houses. Comments by House Speaker Mike Hubbard sum up the bill's gist and how it works.
"Though I am completely opposed to legalized abortion, the U.S. Supreme Court unfortunately allows it to remain the law of the land," Hubbard said. "But with the passage of this legislation, we are doing everything we can to ensure the procedure is performed in a safe and healthy environment."
The bill is the centerpiece of the "We Dare Defend Our Right to Life" section of the House Republican caucus' 2013 legislative agenda.
It's working in Mississippi
Once signed, Alabama's new law would require abortion clinics to meet the standards of an "ambulatory surgical center," Fox said.
This means the state's five abortion clinics would have to widen the sizes of rooms and doorways, forcing them to remodel.
"It puts an undue burden on existing facilities. All of this makes it harder to access health care," Fox said.
It also requires family planning clinics to be able to admit patients to hospitals. It's unnecessary, Fox said. Abortions are one of the safest procedures for women, she said.
It creates a hurdle that may force facilities to close their doors, because hospitals in conservative states will refuse the admission privileges to them.
With a similar law passed last year, legislators in Mississippi are on the verge of shutting down the state's only abortion clinic, Jackson Women's Health Organization.
"The provider has applied to seven hospitals for privileges and been denied," Fox said.
The Mississippi law goes a step further. Doctors performing abortions must be OB/GYNs board certified in Mississippi. Most doctors working in family planning clinics are on a traveling circuit from other states, Fox said. And many come from other fields of medicine.
It's also harder for locally rooted doctors to work at the clinics. It can harm their reputations in conservative states, she said. "And there are safety concerns as well."
The Jackson clinic is desperately looking for someone to fit that bill and is running a want ad at the top of its homepage.
Other states' moves on Roe v. Wade