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

by Emma Batha | @emmabatha | Thomson Reuters Foundation
Wednesday, 7 July 2021 15:59 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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With abortion rights under attack in many states, here's a roundup of some of the biggest developments

By Emma Batha

July 7 (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.

A total of 19 states have enacted 94 restrictions on abortion since January, including 12 bans, it said, with more likely to be passed in the coming months.

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.

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.

“The nearly 600 abortion restrictions enacted over the past decade—and now a record 90 in the first half of this year alone—are part of a coordinated anti-abortion campaign with the end goal of banning abortion across the county,” said Elizabeth Nash, the Guttmacher Institute’s policy lead on U.S. state issues.

“2021 has clearly become a defining year for abortion rights in the United States.”

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 – Republican Governor Greg Abbott in May signed a law to ban abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, usually around six weeks and often before a woman even realises she is pregnant. The law, due to take effect in September, also grants citizens the right to sue doctors who perform terminations beyond the cut-off mark.

In June, the state also passed a ‘trigger’ ban on most abortions that will take 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. The law is due to take effect from July 28, but is being challenged in court by abortion rights groups. Supporters of the law hope it will force the Supreme Court to revisit Roe v Wade.

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 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 in August.

SOUTH DAKOTA – A measure barring abortion based on a fetus' confirmed or suspected diagnosis of Down 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, 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 – The state’s governor in April signed a “trigger” ban that will ban most abortions after six weeks of pregnancy if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns the landmark Roe v. Wade. 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 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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Biden to end Trump-era anti-abortion "global gag rule"   

This story was updated on July 7 to include latest information and data from the Guttmacher Institute finding 2021 had a record number of measures to restrict abortion access enacted.

(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)