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

by Ellen Wulfhorst | @EJWulfhorst | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Friday, 1 January 2021 08:00 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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Many anti-abortion lawmakers hoping Supreme Court will revisit landmark Roe v Wade decision

By Ellen Wulfhorst

NEW YORK, Jan 1 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - With much attention paid to what the increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court may hold in store for abortion access, issues of reproductive rights are front and center in many of the 50 U.S. states for 2021.

Women have the constitutional right to abortion nationwide under the Supreme Court's landmark 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, but the issue remains heated among conservatives, the religious right and women's advocates.

Many lawmakers who oppose abortion see the naming of religious conservative Justice Amy Coney Barrett as raising the odds that the Supreme Court could revisit the abortion issue and want their state be the one hoisting up the law that succeeds in challenging the Roe decision.

"They're either prepping for the time when Roe is either undermined or overturned or they want to be the state that undermines or overturns Roe," said Elizabeth Nash, acting associate director for state policy at the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights research group.

Here are highlights of what is seen happening in 2021 on the reproductive rights front in U.S. states:

In ARIZONA, the governor is Republican and both houses of the legislature are Republican-controlled, making moves on abortion restrictions or bans a strong possibility. The same is true in MONTANA, where the newly elected governor is an abortion opponent. Abortion access could come up in TEXAS, where lawmakers meet every other year and are due to convene in 2021.

In WYOMING, proposed legislation to institute a waiting period and ban abortions after an unspecified term of viability failed to succeed in 2020. The legislatures' Joint Labor, Health and Social Services Committee met two days after the Nov. 3  election to discuss reporting methods and requirements of abortions conducted in the state.

TENNESSEE passed a sweeping measure in 2020 to ban abortion as early as six weeks and require patients be told about a possibility of reversing medication abortions, which is disputed by many medical experts. Most of the measure was blocked due to a challenge in federal court, except for so-called reason bans that prohibit abortions based on race, gender or a Down Syndrome diagnosis.

MISSISSIPPI, soon after the naming of Justice Amy Coney Barrett, asked the Supreme Court to review its law banning abortion after 15 weeks. The ban has been blocked since 2019.

In neighboring LOUISIANA, lawmakers approved a similar law that is designed not to take effect until Mississippi's law is decided upon.

A law takes effect in INDIANA in January requiring women  get an ultrasound at least 18 hours before getting an abortion, thus entailing two clinical visits. Other aspects of Indiana's anti-abortion law, originally signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence in 2016, have been suspended due to court challenges. The law called for women seeking abortion be shown a picture of the fetus and told of its potential viability, that life begins at conception and that fetuses can feel pain.

An OHIO law banning abortions linked to a diagnosis of Down Syndrome was put on hold pending a federal appeals court decision. Both houses of the state legislature approved a bill in 2020 requiring that fetal tissue be cremated or buried.

After Justice Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed, the Attorney General of KENTUCKY 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. The state's Democratic governor has said he supports abortion rights.

On hold due to a court challenge in IOWA is a law that would require a 24-hour waiting period for a woman to get counseling before undergoing an abortion. Lawmakers have been promoting an amendment to the state constitution to say it does not protect abortion rights. Any such proposed amendment would be put directly to voters for approval or rejection.

UTAH has a ban on abortions after 18 weeks that has been on hold since 2019 due to a legal challenge. In 2020, the state passed a law requiring fetal remains be buried or cremated and adopted a trigger ban designed to take effect prohibiting abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

In IDAHO, "Choose Life" license plates go on sale in January for $35. Part of the revenue will be put toward anti-abortion efforts. Similar license plates are available in 33 states, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

A case in Pittsburgh, PENNSYLVANIA could go before the Supreme Court involving a so-called bubble zone  - an ordinance ordering anti-abortion demonstrators to stay at least 15 feet away from abortion clinic entrances. In PENNSYLVANIA's state court is a challenge to its ban on the use of state Medicaid funds for abortions. Abortion providers argued on grounds of equal rights, saying abortion is a medical procedure needed only by women, while men can take advantage of Medicaid funds for all their health care needs.

MISSOURI has a law banning abortions after eight weeks that has not been implemented due to legal challenges.

In ARKANSAS, legislation has been prefiled ahead of its January session calling for an all-out ban on abortion except to save the life of the mother, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Supporters said they hope the measure will reach the Supreme Court to challenge Roe v. Wade.

NORTH DAKOTA and OKLAHOMA have laws requiring medical providers tell patients about the possibility of reversing medication abortion. Both measures are on hold pending a federal legal challenge in North Dakota and a state court challenge in Oklahoma.

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

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(Reporting by 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)