State abortion bills get national attention

Efforts by conservatives to restrict abortion in several state legislatures are receiving national attention, as Republicans work to pass national versions.

ADVERTISEMENT
In Texas, state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) found herself in the national spotlight after filibustering a proposal that would ban abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. The legislation would also have toughened requirements for locations offering abortions and required that doctors who perform abortions have admission privileges at a hospital close to their clinics.

Davis's effort caused Texas Gov. Rick Perry (R) to call a second special session to try and pass the bill through the Republican-controlled legislature.


Davis received wide praise from the left for the filibuster. Democratic senators and national organizations like the Democratic Governors Association sent out fundraising emails citing Davis. Talk of Davis running for something other than reelection — and perhaps challenging Perry, despite dim poll numbers — began. Davis, after previously saying she would not challenge Perry, said she was giving a gubernatorial run a second look

Davis has received the most attention of any state effort to restrict abortion. While Democrats praised Davis, prominent conservatives criticized the filibuster. Former Sen. Rick Santorum's (R-Pa.) political action committee sent out an email to supporters touting his support for the abortion bill. Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas), blasted Davis's filibuster as an attempt "to protect the ability to take more lives."

Republican legislators' efforts to pass similar laws in other states have received national attention as well. The state legislature in North Carolina is pushing through a similar ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. That bill, which was passed by the North Carolina Senate, increases restrictions on which medical facilities can perform abortions. The bill also bans abortions based on the fetus's gender and prohibits abortion insurance coverage in a healthcare plan for North Carolina residents through ObamaCare with exceptions for rape, incest or mortal danger to the mother.

Sen. Kay Hagan (D-N.C.) criticized the state legislature's passage of the bill on Wednesday, saying Republicans performed a "sneak attack" in the North Carolina Senate.

"If this is a healthcare bill about women, I am glad any state legislature in Raleigh is not my doctor," Hagan said in an interview with MSNBC.

Hagan's comments are particularly noteworthy given that abortion is not usually an issue she addresses and she is facing a tough reelection in a state that leans Republican.

Roughly a week ago, Ohio Gov. John Kasich (R) signed into law a much-debated abortion law that mandates ultrasounds for someone seeking an abortion. The Ohio law also limits abortion clinics from moving patients to public hospitals. The Democratic National Committee said the legislation is "just the latest example of Republicans' extreme agenda on women's health."

The attention to the bills in state legislatures may have rubbed off on national lawmakers. Following the U.S. House of Representatives' passage of a bill banning abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) is considering being the primary sponsor of a 20-week abortion ban proposal in the Senate. Rubio is often mentioned as a strong presidential candidate in 2016, so his backing would assure the topic remains in the center of national policy discussions.

Other possible presidential contenders have also been jumping into the abortion debate. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), another possible presidential candidate, pushed legislation extending the time before an abortion could not be performed. That measure failed in the state legislature in June.

And on Friday, Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, who has recently been moving away from the dark horse category of 2016 possible presidential candidates, signed a bill mandating that women seeking an abortion first undergo an ultrasound.

Walker's signature adds to the already strong motivation from legislatures in Texas, Ohio and North Carolina for national organizations and politicians to highlight the abortion bills there. Lis Smith, a senior adviser and spokeswoman for the Democratic Governors Association, said on an issue like abortion, there should be a focus from supporters on gubernatorial and state legislative races.

"We have a very credible case to make that if you care about women's health, if you care about a woman's right to choose —that's your number one, number two, number three issue, you need to invest in governor's races," Smith said.