Are There *Any* States Working to Protect Abortion Rights?
These bills didn't crop up at the same time by coincidence. Given the conservative majority in the Supreme Court, and that a Republican sits in the Oval Office, anti-abortion rights activists see the time to strike as now, with such legislation intended to trigger lawsuits. The ultimate goal of conservative activists and politicians is to overturn the constitutional right to an abortion up to fetal viability (typically 20 to 24 weeks after conception) as established in 1973. "This is a deliberate attempt to bring a direct challenge to Roe v. Wade and to end the right to access safe, legal abortions in this country," said Dr. Leana Wen, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund in a press call on Wednesday.
It should be noted: Abortion is still legal in all 50 states. The Georgia ban does not go into effect until 2020; the Alabama law does not go into effect until late 2019. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has already promised to challenge these laws in court.
However, while some skeptics don't fully believe that the current Supreme Court would overturn Roe v. Wade, activists remain seriously concerned about the possibility. "Those of us in the business are not surprised," says NARAL Pro-Choice America president Ilyse Hogue about the passage of the law in Alabama. "We've been preparing for this reality."
If Roe v. Wade is overturned, states would control abortion regulation and access. Per the Washington Post, some states have “trigger” laws that would ban abortion immediately, while others have bans pre-dating Roe that were never replaced, and still other states have laws that protect abortion rights outright.
When looking at events in Alabama, Georgia, and Missouri, among other states, that prospect seems terrifying from where I stand. But not all hope is lost; activist groups have been working at the state level to secure abortion rights in order to "secure islands of [abortion] access," said Hogue in a press call Thursday. To her point, there are a few states in the U.S. that are working ensure abortion rights protections in their own laws—and in some cases, to amend their constitutions to protect abortion rights for good.
What is my state doing to protect abortion rights?
- Current law: As of 2002, state law stipulates that "the state may not deny or interfere with a woman's right to choose or obtain an abortion prior to viability of the fetus, or when the abortion is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman."
- Current law: Connecticut law currently states that "the decision to terminate a pregnancy prior to the viability of the fetus shall be solely that of the pregnant woman in consultation with her physician." Abortion after fetal viability is restricted except in cases in which it's necessary "to preserve the life or health of the pregnant woman."
- Anything new?: In response to the recent slate of anti-abortion laws, the state legislature is currently considering a bill that would put restrictions on crisis pregnancy centers (which are typically anti-abortion) from using misleading advertising practices.
- Current law: In 2017, Delaware updated its legal code to permit "the termination of a pregnancy prior to viability, to protect the life or health of the mother, or in the event of serious fetal anomaly." While there is currently a bill that would ban abortions after 20 weeks that's being debated but hasn't yet come to a vote, according to Delaware Online, it likely will not pass.
- Current law: Hawaii law explicitly states that "the State shall not deny or interfere with a female's right to choose or obtain an abortion of a nonviable fetus or an abortion that is necessary to protect the life or health of the female."
- Current law: The state currently has an old ban on all abortions after 12 weeks—but it's unenforceable because of Roe v. Wade. Per NARAL, it also restricts abortion post-fetal viability unless the pregnancy poses a risk to the mother's health or life.
- Anything new?: Legislators introduced a bill in February that would overturn older abortion laws still on the books and codify a person's right to an abortion. This week lawmakers in the state government demanded action on the proposed bill after Alabama and Georgia passed abortion bans.
- Current law: In 1993, Maine passed a bill that affirms the right of women to “terminate a pregnancy before viability.” After fetal viability, Maine law stipulates that abortion may only be performed if necessary to preserve the life or health of the mother. All abortions in Maine must be performed by a licensed physician.
- Current law: In 1992, Maryland citizens voted to codify a woman's right to abortion up to fetal viability in the event that Roe v. Wade was overturned.
- Anything new?: Former Maryland House Speaker Michael Busch proposed a bill earlier this year to amend the state's constitution to protect abortion rights; he had to withdraw the bill because of lack of support. His successor Adrienne Jones told AP News Thursday that she is likely to push for that measure again in 2020 because of the news out of Alabama and Georgia.
- Current law: Abortion is legal in Massachusetts up to 24 weeks; state law reads that after 24 weeks "no abortion may be performed except by a physician and only if it is necessary to save the life of the mother, or if a continuation of her pregnancy will impose on her a substantial risk of grave impairment of her physical or mental health."
- Anything new?: Bill S.1209, also known as the "ROE Act," was introduced in January 2019. The proposed legislation aims to eliminate requirements that minors get parental consent before having an abortion, and would allow women to get abortions after 24 weeks if the doctor judges that it "is necessary to protect the patient’s life or physical or mental health, or in cases of lethal fetal anomalies, or where the fetus is incompatible with sustained life outside the uterus." It is expected to go to debate (and potentially a vote) this fall.
- Current law: Abortion up to 24 weeks is protected by state law in Nevada. Only licensed physicians may provide abortion care, and abortions after the 24th week must take place in a licensed hospital.
- Anything new?: State senators are expected to vote on SB 179 next week, which seeks to decriminalize medication abortions and changes certain requirements to ensure informed consent from a patient.
- Current law: New York passed new legislation in January 2019 that updates the state's 1970 abortion law (passed three years before Roe v. Wade). "The legislature finds that comprehensive reproductive health care, including contraception and abortion, is a fundamental component of a woman's health, privacy and equality," the bill reads. It explicitly states that abortion within 24 weeks of pregnancy in all cases is legal, legalized abortion after 24 weeks if the fetus' life is not viable or if the woman's health is at risk (something previously illegal in New York) and allows qualified health practitioners, not just doctors, to perform abortions.
- Current law: Oregon is the only state in the U.S. that has zero legal restrictions on abortion, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, meaning that state law does not prohibit abortion care at any stage of pregnancy. The state also passed the Reproductive Health Equity Act in 2017, which requires private health insurers to completely cover abortion with no out-of-pocket cost. Voters also rejected a 2018 ballot measure that would have restricted the use of state money for abortion.
- Current law: Per NARAL, Rhode Island has an unenforceable abortion restriction that would outlaw abortion as early as 12 weeks. The state also prohibits abortion post-viability, unless the mother's life is at risk.
- Anything new?: On Tuesday, the state senate's judiciary committee voted down a proposed bill that would write abortion rights protections into law. However, legislators might try to tack on some of the abortion rights language onto other legislation.
- Current law: There is no specific state law on the legality of abortion, according to NARAL Vermont, meaning that if Roe v. Wade is overturned, abortion rights aren't clearly defined for residents of Vermont.
- Anything new? Vermont legislators recently passed an amendment called Proposal 5, which would amend the state's constitution to "ensure that every Vermonter is afforded personal reproductive liberty." For this to officially go into effect, CNN reports that the state legislature will have to pass it again and voters would have to approve it in a special election in 2022.
- Current law: Washington protected its citizens' right to abortion up until fetal viability in a 1991 ballot initiative.
What if I don't see my state on this list?
Call. Your. Representatives. The national battle over abortion rights is important (and headline-grabbing), but it's also important for people passionate about abortion rights to lobby their local and state governments to ensure that they are protected if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Here's how to get in contact with all of your elected officials, from your state senators and representatives to your governor. NARAL has also set up its own site with information on how to fight back against abortion bans. Now's the time to take a stand.
Here's what one woman says about her experience with abortion. And ICYMI, here's how to help people in states with restrictive abortion laws.
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