This Friday, Oct. 5, 2012 photo shows Dr. Marvin E. Buehner in an exam room at his clinic in Rapid City, S.D. Dr. Buehner was instrumental in overturning legislation in South Dakota banning abortions. While the majority of Dr. Buehner's work is delivering babies, he can perform pregnancy terminations only when there is a risk to the mother's life, Dr. Buehner said.
CHICAGO — It’s legal to get an abortion in America, but in many places it is hard and getting harder.
Just this year, 17 states set new limits on abortion; 24 did last year, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights nonprofit. In several states with the most restrictive laws, the number of abortions has fallen, pleasing abortion opponents who say the laws are working.
Some of the states with the toughest laws are spread across a middle swath of the country.
In South Dakota, which has just one abortion clinic, lawmakers want to extend the required waiting period from two days to three for women seeking to end a pregnancy.
Next door in North Dakota, there’s only one clinic. The same is true in Mississippi, where a new law threatens that lone clinic’s existence. In several states, doctors now must warn women about purported risks from abortion that most scientists reject.
Patients arriving for abortions at a Granite City, Ill., clinic can expect to find their photographs on an anti-abortion activist’s website. And before her abortion in June, a Chicago woman says her own gynecologist refused to offer any advice, fearing that just mentioning abortion could endanger her job at a Catholic hospital.
While surveys have consistently shown most Americans support keeping abortion legal in certain circumstances, many people’s views are nuanced. A Gallup poll last month found nearly as many voters consider themselves “pro-life” as those who say they are “pro-choice.”
A new Gallup poll released Wednesday found that nearly 40 percent of female registered voters surveyed in 12 swing states consider abortion the most important election issue for women.
President Barack Obama supports access to abortion. GOP challenger Mitt Romney says Roe vs. Wade, the Supreme Court’s nearly 40-year-old decision legalizing abortion, should be overturned, which would allow states to ban abortion.
Anti-abortion attorney Teresa Collett, a law professor at the University of St. Thomas in Minneapolis, says she’d like to see Roe vs. Wade overturned, but even if it is, she said, the debate won’t end because it would be up to states to ban abortion.
Some seem to be moving in that direction.
n More than 30 new abortion laws were enacted this year, a record topped only by the unprecedented 92 laws last year.
n Most states, 41, ban abortion after a certain stage of pregnancy, generally around 20 weeks, unless the mother’s life or health is in danger. In many of those states, the bans are based on a challenged premise that fetuses that early can feel pain.
n Pre-abortion counseling is required in 35 states; 26 require waiting periods after counseling, and in 13 states, the counseling must warn women about alleged risks from abortion.
In Illinois, laws are relatively lenient. The Hope Clinic in Granite City in Southern Illinois caters to women from neighboring states like Missouri and Kentucky where it’s harder to get an abortion.
Tamara Threlkeld, the clinic’s executive director, said despite increasingly difficult access, Hope Clinic has not seen any increase in patients with later-term pregnancies seeking abortions.
Though you’d expect to see that trend, “they’re able to find us” early on, she said.
Most abortions occur in the first 12 weeks when the embryo is about the size of a lima bean. Major organs have begun developing, but the embryo at this stage looks nothing like the photographs of mangled fetuses that abortion foes promote. Those pictures generally represent late-term abortions, those after five months, which account for less than 2 percent of abortions.
Some Hope Clinic patients come from Kentucky, where the number of abortions has steadily dropped from almost 4,400 in 2007 to roughly 3,900 in 2010.
Kentucky’s only two abortion clinics are in Louisville and Lexington, an hour apart and several hours from some of the state’s most impoverished counties. Kentucky requires a 24-hour waiting period, and five of the seven surrounding states also have waiting periods. Public funding of abortions in Kentucky is limited to cases of rape, incest or when pregnancy endangers a woman’s life.