Washington (AFP) – Measures restricting or protecting abortion are flooding state legislatures ahead of a ruling by the US Supreme Court that could upset the legal framework governing the practice for the past 50 years.
A total of 1,844 provisions relating to sexual and reproductive health and rights have been introduced in 46 US states during just the past two-and-a-half months, according to the Guttmacher Institute, which advocates for abortion rights.
Lawmakers in conservative Republican-led southern states have introduced bills tightening restrictions on abortion, while their counterparts in Democratic-ruled progressive states have submitted measures protecting a woman’s right to choose.
The legislative frenzy comes as the Supreme Court, dominated by conservatives following the nomination of three justices by former president Donald Trump, looks poised to possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that held that access to abortion is a woman’s constitutional right.
In a 1992 ruling, Planned Parenthood v. Casey, the court guaranteed a woman’s right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, which is typically around 22 to 24 weeks.
In September, the nation’s highest court, which has a 6-3 conservative majority, declined to block a Texas law that bans abortion after six weeks, before most women even know they are pregnant.
In December, hearing oral arguments about a Mississippi law that would ban most abortions after 15 weeks, the court’s conservative majority appeared inclined to not only uphold the law but to toss out Roe v. Wade.
The Supreme Court is expected to issue a decision in the Mississippi case by June.
Members of the conservative and religious right are feeling optimistic.
“We hope the Supreme Court will soon recognize the right of the people in every state to enact laws protecting unborn children and their mothers,” said Sue Liebel with the anti-abortion SBA List.
Alexis McGill Johnson, president of Planned Parenthood, which operates a number of abortion clinics across the country, said the signals from the court have given politicians “the green light to move forward with their own unconstitutional abortion bans, decimating access to abortion state by state, region by region.”
Restrictive Idaho bill
According to the Guttmacher Institute, abortion restrictions were introduced in 41 of the 50 US states between January 1 and March 15.
In Missouri, a proposed bill would ban abortion in cases of ectopic pregnacy — pregnancies outside the uterus, mostly in the fallopian tubes — even though they are not viable and put the health of the mother in danger.
Another Missouri measure would ban women from traveling out of state to have an abortion.
The bills are currently only at a preliminary stage and would have to be passed by both legislative chambers and be signed by the governor.
Legislation restricting abortion in other states is moving more swiftly, with some taking a cue from the Texas law, which gives members of the public the ability to sue doctors who perform abortions — or anyone who helps facilitate them — once a heartbeat in the womb is detected.
They can be rewarded with $10,000 for initiating civil suits that land in court, prompting criticism that the state is encouraging people to take the law into their own hands.
Idaho adopted a bill last week modeled after the Texas ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. It allows relatives of a “preborn child” to bring suit against abortion providers. The bill is awaiting the signature of Republican Governor Brad Little.
Unlike the Texas law, the Idaho bill does allow exceptions for rape or incest, providing the authorities are presented with a police report.
Similar bills are in the works in Missouri, Oklahoma and Wisconsin.
Referendum in Vermont
Two days after the passage of the Idaho law, Jay Inslee, the Democratic governor of neighboring Washington, signed a bill that would ban lawsuits from being filed against doctors, nurses or other medical personnel performing abortions.
“We know this bill is necessary because this is a perilous time for the ability of people to have the freedom of choice that they have enjoyed for decades,” Inslee said.
The northeastern state of Vermont has gone even further, with lawmakers approving an amendment to the state constitution that enshrines the right to an abortion and contraception.
It will be put to a referendum during the congressional midterm elections in November and is expected to pass.
According to Planned Parenthood, more than 100 measures protecting abortion rights are under consideration in various states, including California, Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland and New Jersey.