Red states not waiting for Supreme Court decision to enact new abortion bans

As the Supreme Court weighs in on the high-profile case that could settle Roe v. Wade — and with it the constitutional right to abortion — conservative state lawmakers are introducing a wave of new bills aimed at restricting abortion at the state level. While several states have introduced bills that mimic Texas’s controversial six-week abortion ban, at least three other states — Florida, Arizona and West Virginia — are considering laws that would ban abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, modeled on the Mississippi law in the United States. the center of the Supreme Court’s case.
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These bills directly violate the so-called viability standard set by Roe v. Wade, which states that women have the constitutional right to terminate pregnancies until the fetus is viable. But proponents are betting that the Supreme Court ruling, expected before the end of June, will ensure Mississippi’s 15-week suspension remains in effect. They argue that the 15-week ban is a more reasonable alternative to the extreme Texas-style laws that restrict access to abortion after about six weeks.

“I believe we have a unique opportunity in the fact that the Supreme Court is now considering 15 weeks, and this would allow Florida to save as many babies as possible as soon as possible after that decision is made,” said Rep. Erin Grall, the lead sponsor of her state’s 15-week ban, said during a House subcommittee hearing on Jan. 19.

If state legislators in Florida, Arizona and West Virginia pass these 15-week abortion bans, they will likely face immediate court action. But if the Supreme Court decision allows Mississippi law to continue to apply, the laws are likely to be enforceable.

Abortion rights advocates say pushing for a 15-week abortion ban is a political move to impose significant restrictions while the public is distracted by Texas and the upcoming Supreme Court decision.

“The goal of the anti-abortion politicians passing these laws is not to ban abortion after 15 weeks,” said Julie Rikelman, process director at the Center for Reproductive Rights, who argued the Mississippi case in the Supreme Court in December. “The goal is to completely exclude access to abortion, to make it completely illegal – criminal – for people to be able to make this decision for themselves.”

A Supreme Court-Inspired Strategy

State legislators generally consider multiple bills aimed at curtailing abortion during each legislative session. And while it has been relatively common for lawmakers to enact measures banning abortions both early in pregnancy and later in pregnancy, such as after 20 weeks, few states had previously targeted 15 weeks as a cut-off point. Before this year, Mississippi and Louisiana were outliers because of their laws prohibiting abortion after 15 weeks.

Republican lawmakers introducing this 15-week bill term say they are doing so specifically in light of the Supreme Court’s pending decision. The idea is that if the judges decide to enforce Mississippi law, the 15-week abortion ban would already be in effect in these states. Read more: Supreme Court signals it is ready to restrict abortion on historic arguments

In West Virginia, the bill’s lead sponsor, Republican Del. Ruth Rowan, at West Virginia Public Broadcasting: “We have to start somewhere, and in saying that, Mississippi did it and we can do it.” Another Republican Del. Kayla Kessinger said the bill was a direct preparation for the upcoming Supreme Court ruling. “States have an interest in defining what abortion should look like, when abortion should be available,” she told MetroNews in West Virginia. “So why are we doing it now? We want the Supreme Court to know that Mississippi is not the only state that wants to address this issue.”

In Arizona and Florida, lawmakers have enacted both a 15-week ban and a copycat law from Texas’ SB 8, which bans abortion for about six weeks and financially encourages private citizens to enforce it by suing anyone they believe has someone. helped have an abortion after that point. In Florida, the 15-week bill has momentum in the state legislature.

Proponents on both sides of the abortion issue have noted that the bills seem opportunistic rather than ideologically driven.

“They’re trying to take the safest political route possible instead of going and doing the right thing, which I think is banning abortion as early as possible in pregnancy, and hopefully really from the moment of conception,” said Andrew Shirvell, founder and executive director of Florida Voice for the Unborn.

Shirvell strongly favors the Texas copycat bill he hoped would cripple the Florida abortion industry, but that legislation has no accompanying bill in the Florida Senate, so this term is unlikely to pass. In recent years, Shirvell says he is disappointed that Florida hasn’t passed more restrictions on abortion. But the Supreme Court “gave Florida lawmakers a little more momentum in their efforts to ban subsequent abortions here in Florida,” he says.

Read more: Supreme Court allows Texas abortion law, but says abortion providers can challenge it?

On that point, abortion rights advocates agree. “I think it’s politically motivated,” said Laura Goodhue, executive director of the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. Florida currently allows abortions up to 24 weeks, and she noted that one reason the state has introduced fewer restrictions than others around it is that Florida has a strict right to privacy in its state constitution.

“However, the Florida Supreme Court has also seen a staff turnover among judges that doesn’t necessarily uphold that strong right to privacy. So I believe politicians in Florida are trying to push that line,” Goodhue said.

A stepping stone

Proponents of the 15-week ban present them as a middle ground between more extreme measures and the current state of access.

In Florida, conservative lawmakers noted that people can still have abortions up to 15 weeks or after 15 weeks if the pregnant person’s life is in danger or the fetus has a fatal abnormality. None of the 15-week bills introduced make exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.

Shirvell says the Florida law “would save up to 5,000 unborn babies from abortion each year and that’s a very positive thing.” But, he said, the bill won’t have as much of an impact as he’d like, because most abortions take place during the first trimester. “The 15-week abortion ban bill will not save the vast majority of unborn children in Florida,” he says.

Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters earlier this month that a 15-week ban “makes a lot of sense” and that while he hadn’t looked at this particular bill yet, he would likely sign it. “Of course I am in favor of 15 weeks. I mean, I think that’s very reasonable and I think that’s very consistent with, you know, supporting protecting life,” he told reporters on Jan. 12.

This sounded alarm bells for abortion rights advocates. In December, Rikelman told the Supreme Court that if the judges abolished the viability standard and enacted Mississippi’s 15-week law, it would open the door for states seeking to ban abortion at many other stages as well. Rikelman says this recent spate of new 15-week bans is in line with what she predicted.

“It’s really not a compromise,” she says. “It would just be devastating for the people who need access to abortion after 15 weeks.”

‘A domino effect’

Banning abortion after 15 weeks would fundamentally change access to abortion in any state, but in Florida, Arizona and West Virginia, where many people live in rural communities, it could have particularly significant consequences.

“We know that when bans like the 15-week ban are enacted, they hit hardest for people of color, low-income people, people living in rural areas and young people – people who are already marginalized by our health care system,” he said. Katie Quinonez, executive director of the Women’s Health Center of West Virginia, the state’s only abortion clinic.

West Virginia currently bans abortions beyond 20 weeks and requires patients to receive state-supervised counseling and wait 24 hours for their abortion. For minors, their parents must be notified if they have an abortion.

Read more: In Mississippi’s last abortion clinic – and the biggest abortion rights fight in a generation

Many people who want an abortion have to postpone their care because they have to fundraise or borrow money, take time off from work, arrange transportation, arrange childcare, and other logistics before they can get to a clinic, Quinonez says. Others may not immediately know they are pregnant or experience a change in their circumstances and then have to overcome those hurdles.

Florida currently offers more access to abortion than most surrounding states in the South. According to Goodhue, about 30% of patients at Planned Parenthood locations in Tallahassee and Jacksonville have been out of state in recent years, and clinics in Florida have seen a large influx of patients from Texas following the passage of SB 8 through the Lone Star State. fall.

“The space in between has so many limitations with very few providers. So it really impacts the whole country,” Goodhue says.

If West Virginia implements the ban, the Guttmacher Institute, a research center that supports abortion rights, estimates that the average driving distance for a single trip would increase by 59 miles, or 90%, after 15 weeks. In Arizona, the driving distance would increase by 282 miles, or 2.459%, and in Florida, the distance would increase by 570 miles, or 4.443%.

“It’s the people who have the means to travel to another state who get care, but then those states will also be inundated with appointments,” Goodhue says.

This can create a “domino effect,” Rikelman adds. When a state adopts new restrictions, it often forces patients to wait longer for an abortion, meaning they may have to travel to another state. And if neighboring countries see longer waiting lists, residents there may also have to postpone their abortions if appointments are not immediately available. “The more states restrict access to abortion, the harder it becomes for people across the region to access it,” says Rikelman. “Fifteen weeks is not the stopping point.”

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