The number of anti-abortion bills making their way through state legislatures has exceeded 200 this week as conservative lawmakers, emboldened by a conservative U.S. Supreme Court, take aim at enacting extreme laws limiting women’s reproductive health.
That’s according to a count by Planned Parenthood Action Fund. And of the 200-plus pieces of anti-abortion legislation pending, about half seek to put harsh limits on the procedure across 30 states.
Among them is a ban on abortions after about the sixth week that South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) signed Thursday. It outlaws doctors from providing abortion services if they detect a “fetal heartbeat” ― a misleading and medically inaccurate term during those early weeks of pregnancy, before most women know they’re pregnant.
“This step we take today was long in coming and monumental in consequence. But our battles are not over. Yet I believe that the dawn of victory is upon us,” McMaster said, alluding to the legal challenges certain to tie the legislation up in court.
A similar bill just cleared an Idaho state Senate committee on Tuesday. In Tennessee, Republicans just introduced a bill that would allow fathers to veto an abortion. There are several anti-abortion bills in the works in Texas, including a bizarre attempt to appoint lawyers to fetuses. Florida and Montana lawmakers are pushing an abortion ban after the 20th week of pregnancy. North Dakota, Mississippi and Arizona all introduced bills this session that would categorize abortion as murder, though they’ve all either failed or stalled.
“Anti-choice politicians in statehouses across the country this legislative session have doubled down on efforts to ban abortion and criminalize both people seeking abortion care and the doctors who provide them that care,” said Kristin Ford, national communications director of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Though most pieces of anti-abortion legislation will be tied up in legal challenges before they can take effect, conservative state legislatures appear to be invigorated by the promise of a firmly conservative Supreme Court having the final say. During his single term, President Donald Trump managed to transform the highest court with three appointments, including a replacement for the late Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ― a stalwart advocate for women’s reproductive rights ― just weeks before he lost the 2020 election.
What’s really concerning is how far-reaching much of this legislation is, said Elisabeth Smith, the chief counsel for state policy at the Center for Reproductive Rights.
“While the number of bills we are seeing now is in keeping with recent years, the difference is that the bills have become more extreme. Many states are introducing outright abortion bans,” she said.
There has also been an alarming shift in how legislators approach anti-abortion measures, she said.
“Lawmakers are now very open about their goal of eliminating abortion access in their state, whereas before, they tried to disguise their motives,” Smith added. “For example, we used to see more bills that saddled abortion clinics with so many regulations that they’d be forced to shut down. Those bills were always passed under the guise of protecting women’s health, but now politicians have dropped the facade. They’re openly and unabashedly trying to ban abortion.”
Ford noted that the timing of these bills is especially sinister. “These lawmakers are blatantly putting their anti-choice ideology before the health, safety and well-being of their constituents during a pandemic.”
Democratic lawmakers in South Carolina made that same argument Wednesday when they walked off the floor during a vote on the six-week abortion limit.
“The Democratic caucus is not going to participate in this farce of a vote about pretend life,” state Rep. Todd Rutherford (D-S.C.) said, referencing some of his colleagues’ refusal to require face masks during the coronavirus pandemic.