06/21/2010 05:44 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

Lawmakers Should Be at Least as Thoughtful About Abortion as Women Are

A woman you know will have an abortion. Maybe she already had one. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that nearly one in three women will access abortion care at sometime in her life. These women are our mothers, our daughters, our sisters - not statistics.

New York and a handful of other states have long been recognized as national leaders in the passage of legislation that protects the health and safety of women and honors their right to make their own reproductive health care decisions. Every state should value women and families enough to have strong reproductive health care policies. Yet, this year, an unusually high number of anti-choice laws have been proposed and enacted.

Arizona, for example, now has a restriction on abortion to low-income women who receive state-financed health care, providing no exception to protect a women's health. Nebraska has two new laws on the books believed to be the first of their kind in the nation. One requires a woman to be screened for mental health and other problems before having an abortion; the other restricts access to abortion later in pregnancy without a health exception.

Anti-choice legislators have the mistaken belief that placing one more hoop, one more barrier, between a woman and abortion care will prevent abortions. However, by the time a woman seeks abortion care, her decision has already been made. Studies have shown that increasing restrictions on access to abortion, such as the newly popular strategy of requiring ultrasounds before abortion, do not serve to change women's minds. Instead, these barriers often result in later and more costly care and sometimes force women to put their health at risk to carry out their decisions. The only outcome of these laws will be to jeopardize women's health and lives.

Anti-choice lawmakers should look to the Guttmacher Institute's May 2010 study as they impose laws aimed at changing the minds of thoughtful, responsible women.

According to Guttmacher's study, the reasons women give for having an abortion "underscore their understanding of the responsibility of parenthood and family life." Three-fourths of women cite concern for or responsibility to other individuals; three-fourths say that having a baby would interfere with work, school or the ability to care for dependents; and half say they do not want to be a single parent or are having problems with their husband or partner. Moreover, 61 percent of abortions are obtained by women who already have one or more children.

Enabling women to access comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception, abortion, prenatal and maternity care, respects women's circumstances and their ability to make thoughtful, moral decisions on their own without government interference. Taking abortion out of that picture is an affront to a woman's dignity and to our values as a society.

California and Hawaii, for example, have continued to proactively protect women's health by passing laws that respect a women's decision-making process around abortion, and New York is poised to do the same. A decade into the 21st century, it should not be so difficult--or impossible--for all states to ensure women have access to the full range of reproductive health care without unnecessary barriers.

Lawmakers should be at least as thoughtful about abortion as women are. If they were, women around the country may actually gain ground in health care, not lose it.