U.S. states making 2021 moves on abortion rights and access

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Thursday, 20 May 2021 17:53 GMT

Abortion-rights campaigners attend a rally against new restrictions on abortion passed by legislatures in eight states including Alabama and Georgia, in New York City, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Jeenah Moon

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As Texas tighten its abortion laws, what are other states doing?

By Emma Batha

May 20 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Texas has become the latest U.S. state to tighten its abortion laws, banning terminations after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which happens at about six weeks - often before a woman realizes she is pregnant.

The law, which also grants citizens the right to sue doctors who perform terminations beyond the cut-off mark, comes amid moves by some lawmakers to overturn a landmark 1970s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

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

Reproductive health research organization the Guttmacher Institute says abortion rights are under "unrelenting assault", with 15 states having enacted 70 restrictions on abortion since January, including 10 bans.

The Supreme Court has a 6-3 conservative majority after former president Donald Trump made three appointments during his four-year term, including Justice Amy Coney Barrett, a vocal supporter of abortion restrictions.

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

MISSISSIPPI - The Supreme Court has agreed to hear Mississippi's bid to revive a Republican-backed state law that bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy, a case that could undercut the 1973 ruling, known as Roe v Wade, that legalized abortion nationwide.

The Supreme Court ruling is expected next year.

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

ARKANSAS - In March, Arkansas banned all abortions except in medical emergencies, making no exceptions in cases of rape or incest. The law is due to take effect in August. Supporters hope it will force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v Wade.

OKLAHOMA – Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signed an outright ban on abortion in April due to come into effect in November.

In anticipation of potential legal challenges, he also signed an alternative law banning abortion from six weeks, which also states that a doctors performing an abortion after this time would be guilty of homicide.

ARIZONA - Republican Governor Doug Ducey signed into law in April a measure banning abortions performed because of genetic disorders like Down's syndrome or cystic fibrosis, unless the condition is considered lethal. The law is scheduled to take effect later this year, probably August.

MONTANA - The Republican-led legislature passed several bills in April restricting access to abortion, including banning terminations after 20 weeks. The measures are due to take effect in October.

SOUTH CAROLINA - Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed a law in February outlawing abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The law is on hold pending a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood, the nation's largest abortion provider.

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 April that Ohio can enforce a 2017 law banning abortions when medical tests show that a fetus has Down's syndrome. Ohio also approved a bill last year requiring fetal tissue be cremated or buried.

KENTUCKY - The attorney general has asked the Supreme Court to reinstate its ban on the dilation and evacuation method, typically used in second trimester abortions. The ban was signed into law, but struck down by a court in 2019. Abortion rights advocates say it would effectively outlaw abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy.

IDAHO - "Choose Life" license plates went on sale in January for $35. Similar license plates are available in 33 states, with 18 donating a portion of the revenue to anti-abortion efforts, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

PENNSYLVANIA - In March, abortion providers lost a court challenge to a ban on the use of state Medicaid funds for terminations. They will appeal to the state Supreme Court.

MISSOURI - A 2018 law banning abortions after eight weeks is on hold due to legal challenges.

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

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(Reporting by Emma Batha. Additional reporting Ellen Wulfhorst. 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)