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

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 15 September 2021 10:25 GMT

A pro-choice activist and Memphis mayoral candidate Tami Sawyer, protests in downtown Memphis during a "Stop Abortion Bans Day of Action" rally hosted by the Tennessee chapter of Planned Parenthood in Tennessee, U.S., May 21, 2019. REUTERS/Karen Pulfer Focht

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With abortion rights under attack in many states, here's a roundup of some of the biggest developments

By Emma Batha

LONDON, Sept 15 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - Women in America are facing an "all-out assault" on abortion rights with a record number of measures restricting access already passed this year, reproductive health research organization the Guttmacher Institute has said.

President Joe Biden's administration has asked a judge to block enforcement of a new Texan law that imposes a near-total ban on abortion in the state.

It comes as pro-choice activists warn that women's right to terminations nationwide are at risk from a looming Supreme Court challenge.

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.

Some lawmakers are making moves to overturn a landmark 1970s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

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.

"2021 has clearly become a defining year for abortion rights in the United States," said Elizabeth Nash, the Guttmacher Institute's policy lead on U.S. state issues.

"The nearly 600 abortion restrictions enacted over the past decade ... are part of a coordinated anti-abortion campaign with the end goal of banning abortion across the country."

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.

TEXAS – A law to ban abortions at six weeks came into effect on Sept 1. The law is among a number of "heartbeat" abortion bans enacted in Republican States seeking to prohibit terminations once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually at six weeks and often before a woman even realizes she is pregnant. It is being challenged by the U.S. Justice Dept in federal court.

The Texas law also grants citizens the right to sue doctors who perform terminations beyond the cut-off mark. Abortion rights groups say 85%-90% of abortions in Texas are obtained after six weeks, meaning the law would likely force many clinics to close.

In June, the state also passed a "trigger law" banning most abortions, which will come into effect if Roe v Wade is overturned.

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

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. 

OKLAHOMA – Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signed an outright ban on abortion except when a patient’s life is endangered in April, which is 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 doctor 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 on Sept. 29. 

SOUTH DAKOTA – A measure barring abortion based on a fetus' confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Down's syndrome was signed into law in March, and went into effect on July 1.

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.

NEW HAMPSHIRE – Lawmakers in June voted to ban abortion from 24 weeks, with no exception for rape, incest or fatal fetal conditions. The law, which is the state’s first bar on late-term abortion, is due to come into effect from January 2022.

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.

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  – The state's governor in April signed a "trigger law" that would ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy and would go into effect 30 days after any U.S. appeals court upholds a fetal heartbeat abortion ban in another state. 

The law would include exemptions for cases of rape, incest, or serious health impacts.

PENNSYLVANIA - In March, abortion providers lost a court challenge to a ban on the use of state Medicaid funds for terminations. They have filed an appeal with the Pennsylvania 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.

This article was updated on Sept. 15 with developments in Texas.

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What is Roe v Wade, and could a new case overturn US abortion rights?

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Biden to end Trump-era anti-abortion "global gag rule"   

(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)