Saturday, October 23, 2021

Anti-abortion bills are sweeping state legislatures, even as Texas case hangs in the balance

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Legislators continue to push forward with anti-abortion laws despite the Supreme Court’s failure to make its abortion case law on a day-to-day basis.

The only definitive way for the court to prevent anti-abortion groups from asserting that states have the constitutional right to regulate abortion, if Texas v. Hellerstedt leaves open the possibility of states proving those regulations passed constitutional muster, is to declare that the legal ban on partial-birth abortion, which was at the heart of the ruling, already existed at the time. At least two anti-abortion bills that would undercut any future precedent are already making their way through the legislative process.

At least four states are moving to pass legislation that would restrict abortions before the fetal heartbeat is detectable. That would make it illegal to perform abortions before the 20th week of pregnancy.

The Center for Reproductive Rights has already filed a lawsuit challenging a Michigan law, similar to one passed by a majority of Alabama’s lawmakers earlier this year, that bans abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable. This is the point when the tissue releases several cells with the higher-than-normal sound frequency that would allow a fetus to be heard.

In April, an appeals court allowed a Missouri law passed by a veto-proof majority in that state to take effect. That bill would require an abortion provider to obtain a court order to obtain a second opinion from a qualified physician before performing an abortion based on a fetal heartbeat.

“The Supreme Court has given an unconstitutionally broad definition to the term ‘partial-birth abortion’ and has given states the power to ban an essential medical procedure, in direct violation of state law,” Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement. “Those women still stuck in Texas continue to suffer as a result.”

Though the Texas Legislature has not made significant progress on any abortion-related bills since the Court’s decision last week, lawmakers in Missouri introduced two bills to ban abortion without exception in the first trimester. Both require a doctor to write a letter to the patient, stating that the fetal heartbeat is detectable. Both also require a physician to report any complications that could result from the procedure, such as severe pain.

So far, no hearings have been scheduled to discuss either of these bills.

Arizona Rep. Matt Heinz and Arkansas Rep. John Peterson filed a bill last week in their states that would ban abortion entirely if the courts declared as unconstitutional a federal judge’s ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt striking down restrictions on clinics that provide abortions in Texas.

That bill is on hold due to a legal challenge to the House version of the measure, which was introduced shortly after it was first introduced. The bill doesn’t have a hearing scheduled in Arizona, and Heinz said that state Rep. Pat Garofalo, who was originally slated to be its chief sponsor, will not be joining Heinz as a sponsor.

Rebecca Kiessling, a spokesman for the Arizona Right to Life, a social conservative organization, said there are already 29 anti-abortion bills on the books in the state, up from 20 last year. She added that Heinz’s proposed legislation is not likely to have much of an impact on Arizona.

“It’s not an issue that passes in the state Legislature,” she said. “Not this year or next year.”

Ohio Democratic Sen. Nina Turner, who is helping the plaintiffs in the lawsuit that ended Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, made similar comments Wednesday in a live interview with SiriusXM’s blog Talk Ohio.

“Unless there’s a Supreme Court decision that terminates the regulation of the procedure, that Ohio law’s still pretty strong,” she said.

The Supreme Court, most recently with its ruling in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, has been so clearly split over the issue that lawmakers are starting to take steps to craft legislation that doesn’t require any specific legal rulings, pro-choice and anti-abortion advocates agree.

“Lawmakers often like to push their own agendas ahead of the court,” said Kristi Hamrick, press secretary for the Ohio Pro-Life Council. “It’s a real disservice to the court.”

These regulations are on the state level. A ruling overturning the Alabama legislature’s practice of passing bills every session or the Pennsylvania Legislature’s practice of appointing judges before hearing them would not have an immediate impact on women seeking

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