State Watch

Red states plan special sessions to target abortion

Henry McMaster and Eric Holcomb
Associated Press-Meg Kinnard/Associated Press-Darron Cummings

If Republicans in Congress have any qualms about announcing new abortion restrictions in the event Roe v. Wade is overturned, they are not shared by their state-level counterparts.

GOP governors and state legislators are planning to hold special legislative sessions later this spring and summer to consider new measures to remove or restrict abortion rights, after the Supreme Court’s conservative majority is expected to reverse the landmark decision half a century ago guaranteeing those rights.

In the days after the high court confirmed the authenticity of a leaked draft opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito striking down both Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem (R) pledged to call lawmakers back into special sessions to pass new restrictions.

Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb (R) and Nebraska Gov. Pete Ricketts (R) have come under pressure from legislators to call new sessions. And in Florida, abortion rights opponents are ratcheting up pressure on lawmakers and Gov. Ron DeSantis (R).

South Carolina’s state Senate agreed on Tuesday to come back to special session to take up new restrictions, though they have not yet said what those restrictions might be. The state House must now approve a similar resolution.

“The current law, I believe and always have, does not have a basis in the U.S. Constitution, in my opinion, and the opinion of a lot of other people as well,” South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster (R) told reporters last week.

One hundred Indiana lawmakers signed a letter to Holcomb asking for a special session to deal with abortion restrictions once the court’s decision becomes official.

“The vast majority of House Republicans, including myself, have been abundantly clear that we want to take action to further protect life should the U.S. Supreme Court overturn, in full or in part, Roe,” state House Speaker Todd Huston (R) said in a statement.

Holcomb said last week that such a special session was “on the table.”

By contrast, at the national level, Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) is downplaying the possibility of GOP action in a post-Roe v. Wade world. 

“Historically, there have been abortion votes on the floor of the Senate. None of them have achieved 60 votes. … I think it’s safe to say there aren’t 60 votes there at the federal level, no matter who happens to be in the majority, no matter who happens to be in the White House,” McConnell said Tuesday.

The elimination of abortion rights at the national level would kick off a process in 18 states where so-called trigger laws are on the books. Those laws ban abortions, to varying degrees, in the event Roe is overturned.

Katie Glenn, government affairs counsel at Americans United for Life, said that states with trigger laws would have to determine how their measures interact with the court’s final ruling. States that have passed abortion restrictions that have been enjoined by the courts prior to this year would have to petition federal courts to remove any injunctions.

But Glenn said she expected other states to pass new measures.

“I think the big focuses will largely be the same — gestational limits protecting human life much earlier than has been possible under Roe and Casey, basic safeguards preventing pill-by-mail abortions and enforcement of those laws, informed consent and alternatives to abortion programs and resources,” Glenn said.

Elizabeth Nash, associate director of state issues at the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute, said she expected some conservative states to push boundaries even farther. 

“Some states may look to limit access to contraceptives, including by limiting access to publicly funded services or to emergency contraception which abortion opponents have continued to intentionally misconstrue with abortion pills,” Nash said in an email.

Idaho state Rep. Brent Crane (R), the chairman of the House State Affairs Committee, said last week he would hold hearings on legislation banning emergency contraception. Idaho Lt. Gov. Janice McGeachin (R), a far-right conservative challenging Gov. Brad Little (R) in this year’s primary, has urged a new special session to remove exceptions from her state’s trigger law.

In Texas, where lawmakers last year passed a measure allowing private citizens to sue those who facilitated an abortion, a prominent legislator said he would introduce new measures to go even farther. State Rep. Briscoe Cain (R) has said he would draft bills to criminalize abortion funds and stop groups that pay for abortions from doing business in Texas.

In Florida, legislators have remained coy on whether a forthcoming special session set to tackle insurance-related legislation, scheduled for May 23, would also include abortion measures.

“Speaker [Chris] Sprowls eagerly awaits the official and final opinion by the US Supreme Court, and he will continue to support efforts to protect innocent life, especially defenseless pre-born babies,” said Jenna Sarkissian, a spokeswoman for the powerful Republican House Speaker.

At an event last week in Clearwater, DeSantis said he would wait to see the final ruling from the high court.

Christina Pushaw, DeSantis’s spokeswoman, said the governor would not weigh in on the matter until the Supreme Court finalized its opinion. 

Tags abortion rights Eric Holcomb GOP governors henry mcmaster Janice McGeachin Kristi Noem Mitch McConnell Pete Ricketts Ron DeSantis Samuel Alito Special sessions state legislators

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