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State battle over abortion rights

Help by Steve Benson

FFRF condemns the relentless passage of anti-abortion laws at the state level. As we await the Supreme Court’s decision on Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which is likely to overturn the foundation of Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion legislation seems to be enacted nearly daily by states with conservative leadership.

While 2021 set a record for anti-abortion laws — with 108 such restrictions passing in 19 states — 2022 is shaping up to be worse. In just the first three months, there have already been 525 restrictions introduced in 41 states. 

“The anti-abortion movement is driven almost exclusively by a religious ideology based on the idea that ensoulment takes place at conception,” comments FFRF Co-President Annie Laurie Gaylor. “In a secular nation, laws governing reproductive health care should focus on science — not faith. Women are not breeding machines and the state has no business dictating when or whether they decide to become parents.”

Here is a roundup of recent abortion news (both good and bad) from around the country (as of late April).

Oklahoma law now criminalizes abortions

Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt on April 11 signed into law a bill that creates a near-total ban on abortion, making it one of the most recent Republican-led state to move ahead with strict abortion legislation.

The measure makes performing an abortion “except to save the life of a pregnant woman in a medical emergency” a felony punishable by up to 10 years in prison and a fine of $100,000.

Another House bill would allow private citizens to file lawsuits against doctors who perform abortions and would only allow a woman to have an abortion if her life were at stake. It now goes to the state Senate.

“It’s terrifying to think that we’re going backwards in time, that we’re actually watching in real time getting our rights taken away from us,” said Kristin Williams, a participant in an abortion rights rally in Oklahoma City.

Michigan gov. sues to protect abortion access

Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer filed a lawsuit April 7 seeking to keep abortion legal in her state if the Supreme Court rolls back its Roe v. Wade ruling.

A 1931 Michigan law banning abortion has been superseded for nearly 50 years by the Roe decision. But if the high court overturns the nationwide right to abortion or leaves it to states to decide, the legislation could take effect. Whitmer is attempting to prevent that, asking that the state Supreme Court to declare abortion protected under Michigan’s Constitution.

In what her office cast as the first lawsuit filed by a governor to protect abortion access since the Supreme Court indicated a willingness to potentially weaken Roe, Whitmer is suing prosecuting attorneys in the 13 Michigan counties where abortion providers operate. The attorneys would be required to prosecute violations of the state’s abortion law if it took effect.

Seven Democratic prosecutors named in the suit said in a joint statement that they support Whitmer’s effort to preserve reproductive freedom. They affirmed the right to choose, noting that Michigan’s “archaic” legislation criminalizing abortion was passed when no women served in the state legislature.

Idaho Supreme Court halts abortion ban law

Idaho’s Supreme Court on April 8 temporarily halted the state’s six-week abortion-ban-and-bounty law signed in March by the governor, which was set to take effect April 22.

Planned Parenthood Great Northwest, Hawaii, Alaska, Indiana, Kentucky, which represents the organization’s three clinics in Idaho, filed the case with the Idaho Supreme Court on March 30.

The ban would have empowered biological relatives to sue providers who perform abortions after six weeks for up to $20,000. Although the bill prohibited a rapist from suing, his relatives would not be prohibited. The court gave the state until April 28 to respond. 

“Patients across Idaho can breathe a sigh of relief,” Planned Parenthood spokesperson Rebecca Gibron put it aptly. “We are thrilled that abortion will remain accessible in the state for now, but our fight to ensure that Idahoans can fully access their constitutionally protected rights is far from over.”

If the law is ever implemented, patients would have to travel hundreds of miles out of state to get an abortion.

Colorado law guarantees access to abortions

Colorado joined a handful of other states April 4 in codifying the right to abortion in statute, a party-line response to efforts across the country to limit abortion access in anticipation of a pending challenge to the Roe v. Wade decision.

Gov. Jared Polis signed into law the Reproductive Health Equity Act, which passed the Democratic-led Legislature after dozens of hours of testimony by residents and fierce opposition by minority Republicans. 

The law guarantees access to reproductive care before and after pregnancy and bans local governments from imposing their own restrictions.

It also declares that fertilized eggs, embryos and fetuses have no independent rights. That’s a response to failed ballot initiatives that sought to restrict abortion by giving embryos the rights of born humans. 

“Colorado has been, is and will be a pro-choice state,” Polis said, calling increasing abortion restrictions elsewhere “an enormous government overreach, an enormous government infringement” of individual rights. “No matter what the Supreme Court does in the future, people in Colorado will be able to choose when and if they have children.

Colorado joins 15 other states and Washington, D.C., in codifying abortion rights. Currently, 12 states have trigger laws, or abortion bans that will go into effect if Roe is overturned. Additionally, eight states, including FFRF’s home state of Wisconsin, have pre-Roe abortion bans on the books that may be reinstated.

DeSantis signs into law strict abortion bill

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on April 14 signed legislation that will ban abortions in the state after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Florida currently allows abortions up to 24 weeks. The new law, which passed the GOP-controlled legislature in March, includes exceptions for the life of the woman and “fatal fetal anomalies” but does not make exceptions for rape or incest. It would take effect in July.

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book said that the bill has left victims of rape and incest out in the cold.

“It became clear, no matter what we do, no matter how hard we try, there will be no exemptions for rape or incest or human trafficking,” Book said. 

Florida’s ban is modeled after a Mississippi law at the heart of the case under review by the Supreme Court, which could overturn or roll back Roe v. Wade.

Nebraska abortion rights backers block ‘trigger’ law

Abortion rights proponents scored a surprising victory in Nebraska by derailing a bill that would have automatically outlawed abortion if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade.

The vote on March 24 frustrated abortion rights opponents, who usually win fights over the issue in the conservative Legislature, but abortion rights backers in Nebraska managed to block it using a filibuster in the single-chamber Legislature.

The bill’s supporters fell two votes short of the 33 they needed to end the filibuster and force a vote. The 31-15 vote left the proposal essentially dead for the rest of the year, even though a majority of lawmakers supported it. 

Opponents assailed it as an intrusion on women’s autonomy and vowed not to budge in their opposition. 

“It is healthy for me, as a mother, as a rape survivor, to draw a boundary and say if you think that my child should be forced to give birth, you are not my friend,” said Nebraska state Sen. Megan Hunt. “And if I go to the Pearly Gates and meet your God someday . . . I don’t think I’m gonna get in any trouble for killing all of your bills who vote for this. I don’t think your God’s gonna have any problem with that. And I don’t think I’m gonna see any of you there either.”

Kentucky law effectively ends abortion access 

The Republican-led Kentucky General Assembly voted 76-21 April 13 to override Gov. Andy Beshear’s veto of a bill that opponents say will effectively end abortion access in the state.

Among the restrictions imposed by the law, it bans the distribution of abortion pills by mail, raises standards for minors seeking an abortion, and mandates the creation of a new and expansive certification and monitoring system to track details of all abortions administered in the state and the physicians who provide them. 

Opponents say the system is impossible to implement without additional funding, and as a result, will effectively revoke access to the medical procedure in the state.

Arizona Legislature OKs 15-week abortion ban

The Arizona Legislature on March 25 voted on party lines to outlaw abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, mirroring a Mississippi law now being considered by the U.S. Supreme Court.

The bill explicitly says it does not overrule a state law in place for more than 100 years that would ban abortion outright if the Supreme Court overrules Roe v. Wade.

The bill now goes to Republican Gov. Doug Ducey, an abortion opponent who has signed every piece of anti-abortion legislation that has reached his desk.

The Arizona 15-week abortion ban bill contains no exceptions for rape or incest and would also bar abortions for families that learn later on in a pregnancy that a fetus is not viable. It contains exemptions for medical emergencies in which the mother is at risk of dying or having permanent, irreversible injury.

Maryland expands abortion access

Maryland is joining 14 other states in allowing trained medical professionals other than physicians to perform abortions. That change is part of a bill expanding abortion rights that was passed April 10 by state lawmakers, overriding the veto of Gov. Larry Hogan.

Under the new law, which will take effect July 1, nurse practitioners, nurse midwives and trained physician assistants will be able to perform abortions. The law will also require most insurance providers in the state to cover the cost of an abortion, at no cost to the resident, and directs the state to invest $3.5 million a year into abortion-care training.

“They stood up for health care, they stood up for access to abortion care — which we believe is health care, and health care is a human right — so they did what was right for the women in the state of Maryland,” said Karen J. Nelson, the president and chief executive of Planned Parenthood of Maryland, referring to Maryland legislators.