Abortion debate ramps up in states as Congress deadlocks

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Anti-abortion advocates are urgent for expanded abortion bans and tighter restrictions for the reason that Supreme Courtroom overturned the nationwide proper to abortion. However with the controversy principally deadlocked in Washington, the main focus is shifting to states convening their first full legislative classes since Roe v. Wade was overturned.

Though some state GOP lawmakers have filed payments to ban abortion drugs or make it harder for ladies to journey out of state for an abortion, others appear break up about what their subsequent steps must be. Some are even contemplating measures to ease their states’ current bans considerably, significantly after Republicans’ less-than-stellar displaying within the 2022 midterm elections and voters’ widespread assist for abortion on state ballot measures.

In the meantime, Democratic-led states wish to shore up abortion protections, together with Minnesota and Michigan, the place Democrats sewed up legislative majorities within the November elections.

Anti-abortion teams mentioned their purpose in overturning Roe v. Wade was to show the choice again to the states, however now they’re making clear that what they need is an encompassing nationwide abortion ban.

“Legislation at the state and federal levels should provide the most generous protections possible to life in the womb,” says the “Post-Roe Blueprint” of the anti-abortion group College students for Life.

The brand new Republican-led Home confirmed its anti-abortion bona fides on its first day of formal legislating, Jan. 11, passing two pieces of anti-abortion legislation which might be unlikely to change into regulation with a Senate nonetheless managed by Democrats and President Joe Biden within the White Home.

So on the federal degree, the struggle is taking form within the courts over the abortion capsule mifepristone, which has been used as a part of a two-drug routine for greater than twenty years, and lately grew to become the way in which a majority of abortions in the U.S. are performed.

The Biden administration has moved to make mifepristone extra broadly obtainable by allowing it to be distributed by pharmacies, in addition to clarifying that it’s legal to distribute the pills via the U.S. mail. However the conservative authorized group Alliance Defending Freedom, on behalf of a number of anti-abortion teams, filed a federal lawsuit in Texas in November, charging that the FDA by no means had the authority to approve the drug within the first place.

In Texas, some lawmakers are exploring new methods to chip away at Texans’ remaining sliver of entry to abortions. For instance, one proposal would stop native governments from utilizing tax {dollars} to assist folks entry abortion providers out of state, whereas one other would prohibit tax subsidies for companies that assist their native workers receive abortions out of state.

These measures might get misplaced within the shuffle of the state’s frantic 140-day, every-other-year session, if legislative leaders do not think about them a precedence. The state’s set off regulation banning nearly all abortions that went into impact final yr “appears to be working very well,” mentioned Joe Pojman, founder and govt director of Texas Alliance for Life, an anti-abortion group. In August 2022, three abortions had been documented within the state, down from extra 5,700 reported throughout the identical month a yr earlier, in response to the latest state data.

The highest state Home Republican mentioned his precedence is boosting assist for brand new mothers, for instance, by extending postpartum Medicaid protection to 12 months.

It is “an opportunity for the Texas House to focus more than ever on supporting mothers and children,” mentioned Republican Home Speaker Dade Phelan.

South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem, a Republican, struck an identical theme in a Jan. 10 speech, saying she is going to introduce payments to increase a program for nurses to go to new moms at house and assist state workers pay for adoptions. Beforehand, Noem said South Dakota must focus “on taking care of mothers in crisis and getting them the resources that they need for both them and their child to be successful.”


Noem says she would “nudge” GOP governors, including DeSantis, to do more to restrict abortion

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Some Texas GOP lawmakers indicated they could be open to carving out exceptions to the abortion ban in instances of rape and incest. And a Republican lawmaker plans to aim to switch South Dakota’s ban, which permits abortions just for life-threatening pregnancies, to make clear when abortions are medically essential.

“Part of the issue right now is that doctors and providers just don’t know what that line is,” mentioned state Rep. Taylor Rehfeldt, a nurse who has skilled miscarriages and high-risk pregnancies herself.

Rehfeldt desires to reinstate a former law that enables abortions for pregnancies that would trigger critical, irreversible bodily hurt to a “major bodily function.” Rehfeldt mentioned she can also be engaged on payments to permit abortions for folks carrying non-viable fetuses, or who grew to become pregnant after rape or incest.

Some anti-abortion activists in Georgia are pushing lawmakers to go additional than the state’s ban on most abortions at about six weeks of being pregnant. They need a regulation to ban telehealth prescriptions of abortion drugs and a state constitutional modification declaring that an embryo or a fetus has all of the authorized rights of an individual at any stage of improvement.

“Roe is out of the way,” mentioned Zemmie Fleck, govt director of Georgia Proper to Life. “There’s no more roadblock to what we can do in our state.”

Republican leaders, nevertheless, are biding their time whereas Georgia’s excessive court docket weighs a authorized problem of the six-week ban. “Our focus remains on the case before the Georgia Supreme Court and seeing it across the finish line,” mentioned Andrew Isenhour, spokesperson for Republican Gov. Brian Kemp.

Abortion rights lawmakers and advocates have few choices to advance their initiatives in these Republican-controlled statehouses.

A Georgia Democrat filed a invoice that may make the state compensate girls who’re unable to terminate pregnancies due to the state’s abortion ban. State Rep. Dar’shun Kendrick acknowledged her invoice probably will not go far, however she mentioned she hopes it retains consideration on the problem and forces GOP lawmakers to “put their money where their mouth is” in supporting households.

In Missouri, the place nearly all abortions at the moment are banned, abortion rights advocates are mulling the idea of circumventing the state’s Republican-dominated legislature by asking voters in 2024 to enshrine the suitable to an abortion within the state’s structure.

However these efforts could possibly be upended by a slew of bills filed by Republican lawmakers looking for to make it harder to position constitutional initiatives on the poll, and for these measures that do make it on the poll, by requiring the approval of no less than 60% of voters for passage.

Democrats in Michigan and Minnesota are probably to make use of their newfound management of each legislative chambers and the governors’ workplace to guard abortion entry. Whereas Michigan voters already handed a poll measure in November that enshrines the suitable to abortions within the state structure, Democrats try to repeal a 1931 abortion law from the books.

In Illinois, Democrats in command of the legislature recently bolstered abortion protections amid increased demand from out-of-state residents. New York lawmakers this yr might ship voters a proposed state constitutional modification to guard abortion, whereas New Jersey lawmakers determined towards an identical proposal.

The November elections introduced divided authorities to Arizona and Nevada, with Arizona now having a Democratic governor and Nevada having a Republican one. Any abortion-related payments that move the legislatures in these states could possibly be vetoed.

Some Republican-controlled legislatures, together with these in Montana, Florida, and Alaska, are also restricted in passing sweeping abortion bans due to court docket rulings that tie abortion entry to right-to-privacy provisions in these states’ constitutions.

In Montana, a state decide blocked three anti-abortion legal guidelines handed in 2021 on that foundation. State authorities attorneys have requested the Montana Supreme Courtroom to reverse the precedent, and a choice is pending.

Within the meantime, Republican state Sen. Keith Regier has filed a bill there looking for to exclude abortion from the state’s definition of a proper to privateness. Regier said he believes a person’s proper to privateness shouldn’t apply to abortion as a result of an unborn baby is also concerned.

Democratic leaders mentioned Republicans are out of sync with the folks they characterize on this situation. In November, Montana voters rejected a “born alive” ballot initiative that may have required docs to use medical care to newborns who draw breath or have a heartbeat after a failed abortion or every other start.

“Montanans said so clearly that they do not want government overreach in their health care decisions,” mentioned Democratic state Rep. Alice Buckley.


KHN correspondents Renuka Rayasam and Sam Whitehead in Atlanta; Arielle Zionts in Fast Metropolis, South Dakota; Bram Sable-Smith in St. Louis; and Katheryn Houghton in Missoula, Montana, contributed to this report.

KHN (Kaiser Well being Information) is a nationwide newsroom that produces in-depth journalism about well being points. Along with Coverage Evaluation and Polling, KHN is likely one of the three main working applications at KFF (Kaiser Household Basis). KFF is an endowed nonprofit group offering data on well being points to the nation.

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