U.S. states moving to restrict abortion rights and access

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 26 May 2022 13:30 GMT

Jeanne Chow and her daughter Isabella Casado hug during a protest in support of abortion rights after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito, preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade decision later this year, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder

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With the Supreme Court reportedly set to overturn Roe v Wade, here are the states looking to ban or restrict abortion, from 'trigger laws' to heartbeat bills

By Emma Batha

LONDON, May 26 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - A growing number of U.S. states are moving to restrict access to abortion amid speculation that the Supreme Court will overturn the 1970s ruling that established the right to terminate pregnancies nationwide.

A leaked draft decision suggests the top court is poised to overhaul abortion rights. Any move to gut or strike down the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling would give states a free hand to limit or ban terminations.

Some states have already enacted tight restrictions in defiance of Roe v Wade or passed "trigger laws" which would automatically ban most terminations if the ruling is overturned.

Abortion is one of the most divisive issues in the United States, with opponents citing religious beliefs to declare it immoral, while abortion rights advocates say a woman should have the right to choose on matters affecting her body.

Opinion polls show a majority of Americans support abortion rights.

But in recent years numerous Republican-led states have passed a slew of restrictions. In May, Oklahoma became the first state to ban abortion from the moment of fertilization.

Reproductive rights experts estimate half of states would be certain or likely to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is struck down, leaving women in large swathes of the Southwest and Midwest without nearby access to terminations.

Here is a snapshot of what is happening in some U.S. states: 

MISSISSIPPI - The leak is a draft ruling in a case brought by Mississippi, which is seeking to revive its law banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy. The law has been blocked by a lower court. A Supreme Court decision is expected to be announced by the end of June.

Mississippi officials had asked the court to overturn the Roe v. Wade ruling, as well as a 1992 ruling that prohibited laws imposing an "undue burden" on abortion access.

OKLAHOMA - Republican Governor Kevin Stitt has signed into law the country's strictest abortion ban. It prohibits abortions from fertilization and allows private citizens to sue anyone who helps women terminate their pregnancies.

Exceptions only apply in cases of medical emergency, rape or incest.

Oklahoma had previously become a destination for women from Texas seeking abortions. Lawmakers have approved several anti-abortion bills in the hope that at least one will withstand legal challenges. 

TEXAS - Texas made headlines in September after introducing a near-total ban on abortions.

It is among several Republican states enacting "heartbeat" abortion bans which prohibit terminations once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at six weeks, which is before the point many women know they are pregnant.

There are no exemptions for rape or incest.

The Texan law unusually grants citizens the right to sue doctors who perform terminations beyond the cut-off mark. Citizens can collect $10,000 for successful lawsuits. President Joe Biden's administration has called this a "bounty".

Abortion rights groups say 85%-90% of abortions in Texas are obtained after six weeks, meaning many clinics will likely have to shut.

FLORIDA - Florida Governor Ron DeSantis signed a law in April banning abortions after 15 weeks. They are currently allowed until 24 weeks.

The new law, which takes effect on July 1, will cut access to late-term abortions for women across the country's southeast. Many travel hundreds of miles to end pregnancies in Florida because of stricter abortion laws in surrounding states.

MISSOURI - Legal experts are watching a proposal in Missouri aimed at preventing women from traveling out of the state to end a pregnancy or from obtaining abortion-inducing medication from a state where it is legal.

The measure would even apply to a non-resident if they had sex in the state leading to conception.

LOUISIANA - Lawmakers have advanced a bill that would classify abortion as homicide, and grant constitutional rights to "all unborn children from the moment of fertilization". The move came two days after the leaked Supreme Court ruling in May.

Louisiana is also one of more than a dozen states with a trigger law that would allow the state to immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

ARIZONA - Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed a bill in March outlawing abortion after 15 weeks except in medical emergencies. There are no exceptions for rape or incest. The new law will likely take effect by late summer if not challenged in court.

KENTUCKY - Kentucky enacted a sweeping anti-abortion law in April that took immediate effect, forcing providers to stop offering abortions until they can meet certain requirements.

These include a provision requiring fetal remains be cremated or interred. The state's clinics say the requirements make it too logistically difficult and expensive to operate.

A federal judge has since temporarily blocked Kentucky officials from enforcing the law.

IDAHO - Republican Governor Brad Little signed a six-week abortion ban in March modeled on the Texan law. It allows relatives of the fetus to sue providers who perform abortions after a heartbeat is detected. The law was due to take effect in April, but has been blocked by the state Supreme Court, pending legal review.

SOUTH DAKOTA - Republican Governor Kristi Noem signed a bill in March requiring women seeking drugs for a medical abortion to make three visits to a clinic to be screened and to obtain medication. The legislation's implementation depends on the outcome of a federal court case.

WYOMING - The state adopted a “trigger ban” earlier this year, which would ban most abortions if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The law would provide exceptions where a woman’s life is endangered and in cases of sexual assault and incest.

LOUISIANA - Lawmakers have approved a similar ban to Mississippi's but it will not take effect before Mississippi's law is decided upon.

ARKANSAS - In March 2021, Arkansas banned all abortions except in medical emergencies, making no exceptions in cases of rape or incest.  

A federal judge has blocked enforcement of the ban pending a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider, and the American Civil Liberties Union. The case remains in the courts.

Demonstrators hold signs during a protest outside the U.S. Supreme Court after the leak of a draft majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito preparing for a majority of the court to overturn the landmark Roe v. Wade abortion rights decision later this year, in Washington, U.S. May 3, 2022. REUTERS/Evelyn Hockstein

MONTANA - The Republican-led legislature has passed several bills restricting access to abortion, including banning terminations after 20 weeks. A judge has suspended enforcement of the laws pending a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood.  

SOUTH CAROLINA - Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed a law in 2021 outlawing abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The law is on hold amid a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood.

TENNESSEE - The state passed a sweeping measure in 2020, which included banning abortion as early as six weeks, and requiring patients to be told about a possibility of reversing medication abortions, which is disputed by many medical experts.

Most of the law has been blocked due to a legal challenge. However, a provision banning abortions based on a Down's syndrome diagnosis is in effect.  

OHIO - A federal appeals court ruled in 2021 that Ohio can enforce a 2017 law banning abortions when medical tests show that a fetus has Down's syndrome. Ohio has also approved a bill requiring fetal tissue be cremated or buried.

PENNSYLVANIA - Abortion providers lost a 2021 court challenge to a ban on the use of state Medicaid funds for terminations. They have filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

SOURCES: Reuters, Guttmacher Institute, Center for American Progress, NARAL Pro-Choice America, ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, Kaiser Family Foundation.

This article was updated on May 26, 2022, with Oklahoma banning abortions after fertilization and other developments.

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(Reporting by Emma Batha. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org)