By Ellen Wulfhorst
NEW YORK, July 8 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - U.S. states have enacted a record number of new laws on abortion this year, making them the major battleground in the contentious issue, a reproductive rights group said on Monday.
The 50 states passed more than 90 bills on abortion access and other reproductive health matters in the first half of 2019, a third more than the same period last year, according to a mid-year report by the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH).
Nine U.S. states moved to limit the procedure with laws such as those banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, while others increased access, the NIRH said.
The anti-abortion measures are seen as a concerted effort to get the U.S. Supreme Court - more conservative with members appointed by President Donald Trump - to revisit its 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling giving women a constitutional right to abortion.
The states are "ground zero" in the fight over abortion, said Andrea Miller, NIRH president.
"We are seeing states moving in widely divergent directions," she told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.
"We have a set of states that are among the most conservative ... and then a host of states that are rapidly, increasingly moving in the other direction."
While Roe v. Wade guarantees the right to abortion, states have introduced restrictions as requiring women to undergo ultrasound testing, requiring parental notification for minors or requiring multiple visits and counseling.
Abortion opponents believe one of the restrictive laws could become the subject of a legal fight that could potentially wend through court challenges until it reaches the Supreme Court, where a decision could reverse the 1973 ruling.
Some states have expanded insurance coverage, created a state-level version of Roe v. Wade or defined abortion as a healthcare issue. The NIRH tally also included other measures involving reproductive health care and contraception.
"We have never had this many laws that protect abortion rights and expand access to abortion enacted in a single year since Roe v. Wade," Miller said.
"There was such a rapid fire number of bans on abortion," she said. "People suddenly saw just how real the threat is and just how clear the ultimate agenda is."
Mark Lee Dickson of Right to Life of East Texas, an anti-abortion group, said not only does the issue of abortion belong in the states but that the high court's Roe v Wade ruling should be disregarded.
"I would love to see things thrown back to the states," said Dickson. "The Supreme Court has too much power. Everyone is passing the buck to the Supreme Court."
Dickson recently spearheaded a movement by the Texas town of Waskom to declare itself a "sanctuary city for the unborn."
The Waskom City Council last month declared the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling "null and void."
(Reporting by Ellen Wulfhorst, Editing by Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers humanitarian news, women's and LGBT+ rights, human trafficking, property rights and climate change. Visit http://news.trust.org)
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