The Court may agree to hear one or more abortion cases in its next term. For the most part, these cases have their roots in the Republican landslides in the 2010 midterm elections. At the time, those electoral victories were largely portrayed as being based on economics; the Tea Party was often described as almost libertarian in orientation. But soon after new state legislators took office it became clear that social issues, and especially abortion, were among their highest priorities. In state after state, those Tea Party lawmakers passed new restrictions on abortion, and as the restrictions have taken effect challenges to them have started to work their way through the courts.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, nineteen states passed forty-three new restrictions on abortion in 2012—on top of ninety-two restrictions passed in 2011. The most recent changes came in Arizona, Kansas, Louisiana, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Wisconsin. A Guttmacher report states that the restrictions were in four general areas:
Mandating unnecessary medical procedures. The best known of these practices is requiring an ultrasound before any abortion, so that the woman is compelled to listen to a fetal heartbeat. Eight states now require these ultrasounds.
Increased regulation of abortion providers. These rules, notably strict in Michigan and Virginia, require abortion providers to have hospital-like facilities, while leaving other, similar outpatient institutions untouched.
Hospital privileges. Three states—Arizona, Mississippi, and Tennessee—recently added requirements that abortion providers have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
Limits on later abortions. Louisiana and Arizona have banned abortion after twenty weeks, and other states are weighing similar restrictions. In a law scheduled to go into effect this summer, North Dakota effectively banned abortions after six weeks.
Rival legal teams, well-financed and highly motivated, are girding for court battles over the coming months on laws enacted in Arkansas and North Dakota that would impose the nation’s toughest bans on abortion.
For all their differences, attorneys for the two states and the abortion-rights supporters opposing them agree on this: The laws represent an unprecedented frontal assault on the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.
The Arkansas law, approved March 6 when legislators overrode a veto by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, would ban most abortions from the 12th week of pregnancy onward. On March 26, North Dakota went further, with Republican Gov. Jack Dalrymple signing a measure that would ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can first be detected and before some women even know they’re pregnant.
Abortion-rights advocates plan to challenge both measures, contending they are unconstitutional violations of the Roe ruling that legalized abortion until a fetus could viably survive outside the womb. A fetus is generally considered viable at 22 to 24 weeks.
North Dakota lawmakers are poised to ban abortions as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, the narrowest window of any U.S. state, and become the first to bar terminations sought because of genetic abnormalities.
House Bill 1456 would make it a felony for a doctor to perform a non-emergency abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as five or six weeks. House Bill 1305 would prohibit abortions sought because a fetus has been or could be diagnosed with any genetically inherited defect, disease or disorder.
The Republican-led state Senate will vote today on the measures, said state Representative Bette Grande of Fargo, who co-sponsored the bills in the Republican-controlled House, where both have passed. Grande said she expects the Senate to approve both and the governor, also a party member, to sign them.
“The heartbeat is society’s marker for life,” Grande, a Republican, said by telephone from Fargo.
Passage of the restriction would make North Dakota the latest state to test how far lawmakers can go in limiting when and how women can terminate pregnancies. It would also set a record.
The Republican-controlled Arkansas House of Representatives on Wednesday overrode a veto by Democratic Governor Mike Beebe of a bill to ban most late-term abortions in the state at 20 weeks into pregnancy.
The House voted 53-28 to override the veto, and the Republican-dominated state Senate was expected to vote on Thursday to override the veto as well. If that happens, Arkansas would join seven other U.S. states that restrict or ban abortions after the 20-week mark.
Arkansas lawmakers are also considering banning most abortions at about 12 weeks of pregnancy, once a fetal heartbeat can be detected by a standard ultrasound. Opponents of that bill say it would be the most stringent restriction on abortion in the country if it becomes law.
Beebe said he vetoed the bill because he felt it contradicted the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision and it would be costly to defend the law from legal challenges.
The Oklahoma Senate approved a bill on Tuesday that would require doctors to tell women they have the right to hear the heartbeat of the fetus before the pregnancy is terminated.
The Heartbeat Informed Consent Act was passed by a 34-8 vote and will go to the Oklahoma House, where pro-life Republicans outnumber Democrats by a 2-1 margin.
The original version of the bill had required a woman to hear the fetal heartbeat before an abortion. But the author, Republican Senator Dan Newberry of Tulsa, amended the measure to require only that an abortion provider inform a patient of her right to hear the heartbeat.
Even so, Newberry said the proposed law is important to further “a culture of life” in Oklahoma.
Meanwhile, Kansas government has gone all in:
In spring 2011, some of the most sweeping antiabortion measures in the nation became Kansas law, including the defunding of Planned Parenthood and the imposition of building specifications and medical equipment requirements — both of which Means said would put abortion providers out of business. Both laws were stayed pending court challenges.
Now, with abortion-related laws being debated in several states, eyes again turn to Kansas. In February, Kansas lawmakers introduced new antiabortion measures that Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has promised to sign, including a bill to stop tax deductions for abortion-related expenses. Other provisions would require that patients hear the fetal heartbeat and shield doctors against lawsuits if they do not inform patients of problems in pregnancies.
That last is nearly unbelievable to me. They are telling doctors basically that it’s ok to lie to their patients about risky pregnancies. Indeed, it’s preferable.
They truly want women to die and for babies with incurable congenital diseases to suffer. My God these people are cruel.
A widening and emotional rift over legal tactics has split the anti-abortion movement, with its longtime leaders facing a Tea Party-like insurrection from many grass-roots activists who are impatient with the pace of change.
For decades, established anti-abortion leaders like National Right to Life and Catholic bishops have pushed for gradually chipping away at the edges of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion, with state laws to impose limits on late-term abortions, to require women to view sonograms or to prohibit insurance coverage for the procedure.
But now many activists and evangelical Christian groups are pressing for an all-out legal assault on Roe. v. Wade in the hope — others call it a reckless dream — that the Supreme Court is ready to consider a radical change in the ruling.
The rift widened last month over a so-called personhood amendment in Mississippi that would have barred virtually all abortions by giving legal rights to embryos. It was voted down but is still being pursued in several states.
Now, in Ohio, a bill before the state legislature that would ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detectable, usually six to eight weeks into pregnancy, is the latest effort by activists to force a legal showdown. The so-called heartbeat bill is tearing apart the state’s powerful anti-abortion forces.
Ohio Right to Life, which has been the premier lobby, and the state Catholic conference have refused to support the measure, arguing that the court is not ready for such a radical step and that it could cause a legal setback. But the idea has stirred the passions of some traditional leaders, even winning the endorsement of Dr. John C. Willke of Cincinnati, the former president of National Right to Life and one of the founders of the modern anti-abortion movement.
One by one, states have been introducing legislation that chips away at women’s reproductive rights. Now a coalition of the nation’s preeminent nutjobs is planning to push legislation in all 50 states that would require women to see and hear the fetal heartbeat before having an abortion. Why aren’t they just pushing a single bill on the federal level? For starters, it would be redundant because Michele Bachmann already introduced one last week.
Mike Gonidakis, whose group Ohio Right To Life is part of the coalition, tells the Associated Press that anti-choicers’ renewed focus on heartbeats has nothing to do with the insane (and illegal) bill that’s currently stalled in the Ohio legislature. The “Heartbeat Bill,” which involved a fetus testifying before a committee, would ban women from getting an abortion if the fetus’ heartbeat can be detected. The timeframe varies, but in some cases that could be as early as 18 days after conception. The bill is such a clear violation of Roe v. Wade’s viability standard that it’s divided anti-abortion groups, as some fear that it will only reaffirm the 1973 decision.