Abortion foes plot wave of legislation in the states

Opponents of abortion rights are planning to push a raft of new rules and restrictions after their allies scored big wins in state legislative chambers and gubernatorial races.

Legislators in some states have already filed measures to prohibit or limit abortions that occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy and to ban abortions conducted by dismembering a fetus.

“It’s definitely going to be a busy session,” said Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee. “Right now is the time that our affiliates are shaping their legislative agendas and what they’d like to see passed.”

Fourteen states have already banned abortions that occur after 20 weeks. Six more have banned abortions by dismemberment.

Those numbers are likely to grow. Both supporters and opponents of abortion rights expect bruising fights over such measures in states like Iowa, Missouri and Kentucky, where Republicans now control both state legislative chambers and the governors’ mansions after November’s elections.

“We are still going to see a lot of action around restricting abortion and limiting family planning services at the state level,” said Elizabeth Nash, a state-level policy analyst at the pro-abortion rights Guttmacher Institute. “I think conservatives have been emboldened by the election.”

At the same time, the number of abortions provided in the United States is reaching historic lows. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that the number of abortions reported in 2013 fell by 5 percent from the previous year. The number of abortions reported in 2013 was the lowest total since the CDC began reporting those statistics in 2004.

The first post-election votes on abortion rights are likely to take place this week in Ohio, where legislators are meeting in a lame-duck session. The state Senate has already passed measures that would ban abortions after 20 weeks and require abortion clinics to bury or cremate remains of terminated fetuses; the state House, also controlled by Republicans, is likely to pass those measures this week.

Sue Swayze, who heads the National Pro-Life Women’s Caucus for the anti-abortion rights Susan B. Anthony List, said the next big trend will be a bevy of measures requiring burial or cremation of aborted fetuses.

Videos released last year by the anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, widely criticized for selectively editing comments from Planned Parenthood officials, nonetheless sparked a conversation among anti-abortion rights legislators about the way fetal remains are treated.

Missouri, where a fetal remains measure stalled in the final days of this year’s session, is expected to pick up a similar version of the bill in 2017, when Republican Eric Greitens becomes governor. Texas and Indiana have passed similar bills, though a court blocked the Indiana law.

In Utah, Republican legislators are preparing a measure that would require doctors to tell patients that a medically induced abortion may be able to be reversed. South Dakota and Arkansas have similar laws on the books.

And in Texas, state Republicans are preparing a legislative response to a U.S. Supreme Court decision earlier this year that struck down parts of a law that established new requirements for doctors who perform abortions and the clinics that provide them. That law, the court ruled, placed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion.

Most proposals to restrict abortion rights are not new. The proposals are routinely introduced in legislative chambers, modeled on sample bills provided by Americans United for Life, though they have stalled in recent years amid Democratic opposition.

But as Republicans have made steady gains in legislatures across the country, the anti-abortion rights movement has notched a series of victories. Since 2011, the year Republicans took over scores of state legislative seats after the 2010 midterms, 334 measures restricting abortion rights have passed in 32 states across the country. Forty-four were enacted in 2016 alone, according to a tally by the Guttmacher Institute.

Some abortion rights supporters say they worry most about a new tactic used by some Republican-led states: Those states have begun crafting rules and regulations through agencies that oversee abortion providers and medical clinics, alongside legislation aimed at codifying those rules, in an effort to stop procedures even before a legislature has acted.

“A lot of the trends in the states will be to simultaneously introduce things in legislatures and implement rules in departments that have anything to do with abortions,” said Aimee Arrambide, the reproductive rights program manager at the left-leaning Public Leadership Institute.

Arrambide said she expected Republican-led states to implement onerous rules governing reporting and medical waste disposal through agencies as companion bills make their way through legislatures. Texas is one state where Republicans have used the dual track method: The state required fetal burials or cremations even before the legislature passed its own law.

There are fewer opportunities for Democratic-led states to advance abortion rights, and most activists who favor those rights say their focus is likely to be dominated by the fight over President-elect Donald Trump’s nominee to replace the late Justice Antonin Scalia on the Supreme Court.

Though Trump himself has taken several different stands on abortion in recent years, he told CBS’s “60 Minutes” earlier this month that he would appoint anti-abortion rights judges who would then send the question of whether abortion should be legal back to the states.

That pledge, Arrambide said, should spur Democratic-led states to pass laws codifying the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, enforcing stricter penalties for violence or intimidation at clinics that provide abortions, and increasing access to contraception.

“We need to work on proactive policies, either to solidify these rights at the state level or to shape the narrative of the debate,” Arrambide said.

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