Legal News Roundup: 2014 Welcomes New Abortion and Marijuana Laws

As Americans welcomed in 2014, states across the country welcomed several new headline making laws into effect.  Although the federal legal landscape continues to be dominated by the implementation of the Affordable Health Care Act, a number of important, and controversial, state laws will challenge American jurisprudence in 2014.  From the legalization of marijuana to allowing mothers to take their placenta afterbirth home from the hospital, groundbreaking state legislation all over America will be under the microscope.

Abortion Laws Prevalent Across State Legislation

A report by researchers at the Guttmacher Institute indicates that abortion restriction legislation continues to be a focus in states across the country.  According to researchers at Guttmacher, 39 states combined to pass 141 laws in 2013 that were related to reproductive health and rights, with half of those laws, 70 across 22 states, designed to specifically restrict abortion. 

Guttmacher’s report notes that the number of abortion restrictions is up from 43 in 2012, driven largely by laws in North Dakota, Texas, North Carolina, and Arkansas which passed a combined 26 restrictions on abortion that will take effect in 2014.  The laws vary in what aspect of abortion is restricted, with some targeting abortion providers, some limiting insurance coverage, and others banning abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization.  The full report on America’s new abortion legislation can be found here.

Legalized Marijuana Hits Shelves in Colorado

Colorado famously become one of two states to legalize the sale and use of marijuana, and, after establishing a number of laws regulating the product, the new year officially made it legal to purchase marijuana.  With the legalization of a drug that is still illegal under federal law comes several concerns, most notably how Colorado will be able to keep pot out of the hands of children and teenagers, and how a state can regulate an industry that is still illegal almost everywhere else in the country.

Taking cue from regulation of cigarettes and alcohol, and adding legislation that uniquely addresses concerns raised by marijuana use, Colorado legislatures feel they are prepared for the widespread purchase and use of pot in the New Year.  The US Department of Justice has not intervened, but will keep its eye on how Colorado is able to manage the use of marijuana in its own borders and prevent distribution of the drug to surrounding states.  Washington, which has also legalized marijuana purchase and use, will see its progressive marijuana legislation come into effect later this year.

Minimum Wage Increases in States across America

Twenty-one states, dissatisfied with the federal minimum wage of $7.25 per hour, will see new legislation that raises the minimum hourly rate employers must pay.  New Jersey ($8.24 per hour), Connecticut ($8.70 per hour), and New York ($8 per hour) have taken the lead on the hourly wage issue, with several other states following suite to increase wages to adjust to higher costs of living.  Minimum wage remains a divisive issue between labor groups and businesses, and the increases across the country are worth keeping an eye on.  Should economies in the states enacting minimum wage increase survive, or thrive, after the change, a strong push for a nationwide raise could lead to similar laws to take effect next year.

Oregon Allows Mothers to Take Placenta Home from the Hospital

Every year, curious laws pass through state legislatures, and 2014 is no exception as Oregon officially allowed mothers to take home the placenta after birth.  Placenta consumption has gained steam in some corners of American medicine, and Oregon state representative Alissa Keny-Guyer worked with Dr. Melvin Kohn to prepare and present HB 2612 – a bill allowing women to take placentas home from the hospital.  A handful of organizations in the state of Oregon that offer placenta consumption services to new moms are encouraged that the law will reduce the stigma surrounding the practice, but it remains to be seen if consuming the placenta after birth becomes significantly more popular simply because it is legal to take it home.

The year 2014 has a variety of new laws that are worth keeping an eye on, some more significant than others.  As the legalization of marijuana and the increased restrictions on abortion are tested in state legislative bodies and court rooms, federal and state governments will be watching closely, and it is likely that a number of the groundbreaking issues coming to a head in 2014 will pave the way for future legislation.

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