Abortion Waiting Periods By State Force Women To Wait Longer Than Anyone Else In These Areas

With state legislatures constantly trying to roll back women's reproductive rights, pro-choice advocates finally received some much-needed affirmation when the Supreme Court struck down provisions on a Texas law that sought to make access to abortion all but legally and logistically impossible. Texas House Bill 2 (HB2) essentially held abortion clinics hostage to rigorous and unnecessary mandates, requiring that all abortion clinics meet the same standards as walk-in surgery clinics and that abortion providers also have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. But while the Supreme Court found these restrictions to be unconstitutional in a 5-3 vote, multiple states with long waiting periods for abortions also seek to undermine a woman's right to her own reproductive health.

Women in Missouri, North Carolina, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah must jump through some of the most painstakingly restrictive hoops in order to get an abortion. These states require that women wait a full 72 hours before receiving an abortion, during which time they are expected to "think about" their decision. Enacted by GOP lawmakers and their anti-choice backers, these mandatory waiting periods are meant to act as a deterrent to abortion in the hopes that women will be discouraged from acting in the interest of their own body, regardless of the clear heightened costs and risks.

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These waiting periods often cause women to have to make two or more trips to clinics, and during the interim they are often forced to receive in-person counseling. South Dakota currently has the most restrictive waiting period on the books, with weekends and holidays excluded from the state's 72-hour period.

These restrictions fly in the face of top medical professionals, including the World Health Organization. WHO recommends that abortions be provided without delay, and that to do otherwise jeopardizes "women’s ability to access safe, legal abortion services and demeans women as competent decision-makers." But in spite of these explicit recommendations, women have seen their access to abortion stripped time and time again by conservative (predominantly male) legislators who claim to have all of the concern for women's health without any of the basis in those pesky, scientific facts.

Monday's 5-3 vote on HB2 will not have an immediate impact on these waiting periods, but will nevertheless carry long-term political ramifications in the fight for abortion. An additional 14 states have passed Texas-style admitting privilege mandates and some 22 states have surgical center requirements. These states will now likely face a bolstered legal battle in their attempts to keep these requirements in place since the highest court ruled against these two requirements.

This historic ruling has set a precedent for positive change in the wake of state legislatures who attempt to set back the clocks on abortion rights. Now that the Whole Woman's Health v. Hellerstedt ruling is in place, reproductive justice advocates will be able to realign their focus on the many challenges ahead, including these draconian mandatory waiting periods.