Chapter 11: Contemporary Obstacles to Reproductive Healthcare in the United States

History of Women’s Activism in the United States: Struggles and Solidarities

In the first six months of 2019, according to the Guttmacher Institute, state legislatures across the U.S. enacted 58 abortion restrictions, 26 of which would ban all, most, or some abortions (Nash, Mohammed, Cappello, et al., 2019). The surge in abortion bans, according to Nash et al. (2019), “is a distinct departure from the strategy deployed by abortion opponents for decades” (para. 2). While state legislatures previously had taken incremental steps to restrict abortion, a strategy that was less likely to be challenged in the courts, now, spurred by a more conservative Supreme Court, states are employing a more radical strategy. This strategy “hinges on the hope that these bans will be the subject of court cases that will give the U.S. Supreme Court an opportunity to undermine or overturn long-standing constitutional protections for abortion” (Nash, et al., 2019, para. 3).

But, note Nash et al. (2019), this is only half the story. “Moving in the opposite direction are state legislatures primarily in the Northeast and West, along with Illinois,” that are protecting abortion rights, and expanding access to contraceptive services and sex education (Nash, et al., 2019, para. 4).

Overall, access to abortion is limited in many parts of the country not only because of abortion law, but also because the number of abortion providers has fallen. In fact, as of 2017, 90% of US counties did not have a single abortion provider (Cartwright, Karunaratne, Barr-Walker, et al., 2018). This is particularly onerous for poor women, who may have difficulty traveling long distances for reproductive health services.

Opportunity for Research: What is the current status of access to reproductive health care?



Cartwright, A., Karunaratne, Barr-Walker, J., Johns, N., & Upadhyay, U. (2018, May). Identifying national availability of abortion care and distance from major U.S. cities: Systematic online search. Journal of Medical Internet Research, 20(5). Retrieved from

Nash, E., Mohammed, L., Cappello, O., Naide, S., & Ansari-Thomas, Z. (2019, July 1). State policy trends at mid-year 2019: States race to ban or protect abortion. Guttmacher Institute. Retrieved online at