Editor’s Note: Manatt Health conducted a survey of all state shield laws that have been passed in recent years, classifying them by the scope of protections they offer. The survey informs not only health care providers and state policy makers, but also individuals and those who support them in seeking abortions, who may be unaware of the protections afforded them in a particular state. Key findings are summarized below. For a free infographic capturing the scope of current shield laws, click here.
Full results of our shield law survey are available through Manatt on Health, Manatt’s premium legal and health policy subscription service covering topics and trends transforming health care. Findings will be updated as new shield laws are enacted. Results also can be accessed through a standalone hard copy report.
Since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade and states became responsible for abortion protections, a patchwork of laws has been passed across the United States. Some states have strengthened their protections to promote abortion access, while others have criminalized abortion access or facilitation or subjected providers who perform abortions to civil and professional liability. Patients seeking abortions, abortion providers, and the people and organizations that support them may risk violating the law of one state, which broadly prohibits abortion care and services, while engaging in lawful abortion care in another state.
In light of these conflicts, as of this summer, 15 states and the District of Columbia, led by the state of Connecticut, have enacted “shield laws” that protect a number of stakeholders, including those who seek and receive abortion services in a state where abortion is legal; providers who perform abortions, including via telehealth, when they are providing the services from within a state where abortion is legal; and other persons or entities who may be involved in facilitating an individual’s access to abortion services. Some states enacted a single shield law, while others enacted a number of laws that collectively constitute the state’s shield law.
Below are key findings from Manatt Health’s survey of all shield laws that have been passed in recent years, classifying them by the scope of protections they offer.
Shield laws typically contain three categories of provisions:
- Preventing state officials from furthering or supporting investigations and legal proceedings in other states based on violations of abortion-related laws (e.g., California, Hawaii, Illinois).
- Protecting health care providers from professional licensure consequences or medical malpractice insurance coverage losses due to their involvement in abortion care (e.g., Colorado, Maryland, New York).
- Creating additional protections for state residents or individuals seeking care in the state with such protections, such as restricting information regarding an abortion from disclosure in a legal proceeding against the patient or their provider (e.g., Delaware, Minnesota, Vermont).
Many shield laws, for instance those in Connecticut and New Jersey, broadly protect reproductive health care, which includes services related to pregnancy and contraception as well as abortion. Some shield laws, such as those in New Mexico and Washington, cover “protected health care services,” which encompass both reproductive health care and gender-affirming care.
The differences in the scope of protections tend to be found in the specific shields offered against various types of legal actions or proceedings and the particular protections offered to providers engaged in the provision of abortion-related care.
Table 1: Scope of State Abortion Shield Laws
* Most provisions are specific to legally protected health care services or reproductive health care services, while the legal claim for unlawful interference with protected rights is more broadly applicable to ‘lawfully provided medical care.