Some States Work to Protect Choice, Others to Take It Away

On Friday Donald Trump became the first sitting president to speak in person at the March for Life, the nation’s largest anti-abortion rally. Addressing a supportive crowd, the president listed a number of conservative achievements from his first term—expanding the global gag rule, preserving faith-based adoption, appointing 187 conservative-friendly federal judges, and touting his appointment of two Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh.

“Unborn children have never had a stronger defender in the White House,” Trump told the marchers to much applause.

As Trump revealed, reproductive rights and sexual health care have been under attack the past several years. 2019 in particular was a hard year for abortion rights on the state level. Bolstered by the Trump administration’s anti-abortion measures, state lawmakers are making preparations in case Roe v. Wade is overturned and the responsibility to regulate abortion care falls to the states. Twenty states already have laws prepared to restrict or abolish abortion, and they’re not slowing down. We’re only four weeks into 2020 and already we’re seeing a surge of regulations making their way through state legislatures around the country. Here are a few:


Last week at the Kansas state capitol, lawmakers heard testimony for a constitutional amendment that would overturn a 2019 ruling by the Kansas Supreme Court that declared abortion access a right. If passed, this amendment would revoke the state constitutional right to abortion and allow lawmakers to pass additional restrictions. Republican officials are rushing to get this amendment passed because there are currently several cases dealing with abortion in the Kansas court system. The amendment requires a two-thirds majority in both chambers to be passed before it ends up on the ballot for Kansas voters.


The Tennessee Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote this month on a bill that would ban abortion after six weeks or once the pregnancy hormone HCG has been detected. The hormone can be detected in blood tests as early as ten days from conception.


In 2014 California passed a law that requires all insurance plans to cover abortion. Last week, on the same day as the March for Life, the Trump administration threatened to withhold federal funds from the state, arguing that the insurance requirement forces people to pay for others’ abortions and discriminates against health plans that don’t cover basic reproductive care. Five other states also require abortion coverage in insurance plans.


Earlier this month, several towns in Texas voted to become “sanctuary cities for the unborn.” This declaration would make abortion illegal in the cities if the Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. It also allows family members of people who have abortions to sue providers for emotional distress. This has become a growing trend in small Texas cities, with many adopting the ordinance last year.


Last week an Iowa Senate subcommittee cleared a constitutional amendment that would add language to the state constitution stating that people have no right to an abortion. The proposed language reads: “the Constitution of the State of Iowa does not secure or protect the right to abortion or require the funding of abortion.” A majority vote at the ballot box will be needed for this amendment to pass.


Michigan is gearing up to release several ballot initiatives that would restrict abortion access throughout the state. One would restrict abortions after six weeks, and the other would ban dilation and evacuation abortion, a common second-trimester procedure.  These measures will appear on the ballot on November 3, 2020.


In better news, earlier this month lawmakers in Georgia proposed legislation that would allow people to bypass the requirements of its 2019 abortion ban. A federal judge blocked the law, but the “Women’s Right to Know Act” would require those seeking abortion to certify that they read anti-abortion materials, viewed the fetal image, and heard the fetal heartbeat before receiving an abortion. This new bill would make it easier to get an abortion by not requiring people to undergo that process.


In another promising development, just a few weeks ago a federal appeals court denied Mississippi’s request to reconsider a ruling that struck down the state’s fifteen-week abortion ban. In the December ruling the court said, “States may regulate abortion procedures prior to viability so long as they do not impose an undue burden on the woman’s right, but they may not ban abortions.”

US Supreme Court

The small victories in Georgia and Mississippi could be threatened depending upon the result of an upcoming Supreme Court case due to be argued in March. The high court will hear a case regarding a law in Louisiana that requires doctors to have admitting privileges at a hospital within thirty miles of the clinic where an abortion is performed. The concern is that it would leave Louisiana with only one doctor authorized to perform abortions. This law is similar to a Texas law that the court struck down in 2016, but this will be the first abortion case before the Supreme Court since Kavanaugh and Gorsuch were appointed by Trump, creating a conservative 5-4 majority. This case is being watched closely as it could be a chance for the court to consider abortion rights more broadly.