Abortion restrictions take root in US South

by Emily Wagster Pettus
In this July 2, 2012 photo, abortion opponent Ashley Sigrest of Brandon, Miss., talks about her reasons she protests Jackson Women's Health Organization's clinic in Jackson, Miss. Sigrest said she regrets the abortion she had in August 1998 and supports admitting privileges laws because she believes they protect women's health. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Laws are being enacted across the U.S. South that would greatly restrict access to abortion, forcing many women to travel hundreds of miles to find a clinic. The laws, requiring abortion doctors to have privileges to admit patients to local hospitals, could have a profound impact on women in poor and rural sections of what is known as the Bible Belt.

In many places in the South, clinic doctors come from out of state to perform abortions and don't have ties to a local hospital. Critics say the laws mean hospitals, leery of attracting anti- protesters, could get veto power over whether the already-scarce clinics remain in business. They say the real aim is to outlaw abortions while supporters say they are protecting 's health.

The laws are the latest among dozens of restrictions on abortions that states have enacted in the past two decades, including 24-hour waiting periods, parental consent and ultrasound requirements.

"You're looking at huge swaths of the country where women's options are becoming severely limited," said Amanda Allen, state legislative counsel for the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights.

The requirements are already in effect in Texas and Tennessee. Laws in Mississippi and Alabama are on hold during court challenges. Louisiana and Oklahoma are about to enact their laws, which would bring the total to 10 states. If the law there is upheld, Mississippi's lone would have to close, meaning women in some parts of the state would have to travel at least three hours to an out-of-state clinic.

Republican Gov. Phil Bryant bluntly gave one reason for signing that law in 2012: "...we're going to try to end abortion in Mississippi."

In this April 15, 2013 photo, Laurie Bertram Roberts, left, president of Mississippi's chapter of the National Organization for Women, confronts an abortion opponent who was blocking the driveway to the Jackson Women's Health Organization's clinic in Jackson, Miss. Roberts has volunteered as an escort at the clinic and said if facilities close, women would likely try to end their own pregnancies in potentially dangerous ways. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

The Center for Reproductive Rights says besides the South, other states with the laws are in the Midwest or the West—Kansas, North Dakota, Utah and in Wisconsin, where it is being challenged in court this week.

After judges allowed Texas' privileges law to take effect earlier this year, 19 of 33 abortion clinics closed.

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