Republican gains in state legislatures with once-even partisan splits, along with one state’s amendment meant to open the flood gates for abortion restrictions, could spawn a spate of anti-choice legislation in 2015—one that could include radical 20-week abortion bans, misinformed fetal pain laws, and onerous legal requirements for abortion care providers.
Many state legislators pre-filed bills in the weeks and months before the kickoff of the 2015 legislative sessions, while in some states lawmakers wait until after the new year.
Rewire reporters have sifted through anti-choice proposals that have been pre-filed over the past couple of months, as well as public comments outlining agendas for anti-choice state lawmakers in 2015, to compile a list of six states shaping up to be focal points in the battle for reproductive rights—with many of these legislatures ready and willing to propose laws that have been struck down by various courts as unconstitutional.
This anticipated onslaught of anti-choice bills comes as the soon-to-be GOP-controlled U.S. Senate eyes a national ban on all abortions after 20 weeks.
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Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager for the Guttmacher Institute, told Rewire that moves by congressional Republicans to restrict abortion on the federal level will likely be mirrored by lawmakers on the state level.
“Whatever we see on the federal level, specifically the 20-week abortion ban, we will see at the state level,” Nash said. “This is a fairly symbiotic relationship between the states and Congress, and the type of abortion restrictions that are in play in Congress will also be in play at the state level.”
Because there have been so many restrictions on abortion and reproductive rights passed in Republican-controlled state legislatures in recent years, Nash said that lawmakers will look for ways to make restrictions even more burdensome on women and providers.
“We are expecting a lot of the same types of restrictions that we’ve seen over the past couple of years,” she said. “The issue is that so many restrictions have passed in such a short amount of time that what we’re seeing now are states looking to make their existing restrictions worse.”
In their first opportunity to pre-file bills for the 2015 session, South Carolina lawmakers submitted at least eight anti-choice bills to be taken up; among them, a fetal pain ban, a medication abortion ban, and an admitting privileges law. All eight bills were introduced by only three state senators, and the state legislature has already indicated it will try to push through a series of extreme anti-choice laws in an attempt to “see which gets the most traction” among the state legislature’s anti-choice majority.
State lawmakers in Missouri introduced more legislation to restrict reproductive rights in 2014 than lawmakers in any other state. More than 30 bills to restrict reproductive rights were put forward by Missouri’s collection of influential anti-choice policymakers. The legislature did not hold votes on most of the bills, but lawmakers passed a bill to extend the state’s mandatory waiting period for women seeking an abortion. The Republican majorities in both the state house and senate were able to override Democratic Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto, increasing the waiting period for abortions from 24 to 72 hours. Despite the protests of reproductive rights advocates, lawmakers have already pre-filed more than half a dozen bills to restrict reproductive rights in 2015. In recent months most of the public and media attention in the state has been focused on Ferguson, but in January, state lawmakers may pull that attention to Jefferson City and a coordinated campaign to ram through laws meant to chip away at reproductive rights.
State lawmakers nationwide have passed legislation to restrict access to reproductive health care, but in New Mexico, attempts to restrict women’s access to health services have gained little traction. Consequently, reproductive health-care clinics in the state have provided care for more and more women from surrounding states, where access to abortion has been severely limited. However, a Republican governor with an increasing national profile and a newly elected Republican majority in the state house leaves the future of New Mexico’s reproductive rights in doubt. Bills to change the laws governing parental notification of minors seeking abortion care will likely be introduced, and other bills to increase restrictions on abortion access are possible. If advocates are hoping to prevent possible restrictions on reproductive rights from becoming law, they will have to look to the Democratic majority in the state senate.
Voters in Tennessee on Election Day approved an amendment to the state’s constitution that will allow state lawmakers to pass and implement legislation restricting abortion. State lawmakers have already pre-filed legislation to restrict reproductive rights in the state, while a recent public opinion survey found that Tennessee residents are divided on how many restrictions should be placed on reproductive rights. With significant majorities in both the state house and senate, Tennessee Republican lawmakers will likely introduce several bills to restrict reproductive rights in the state thanks to the passage of Amendment 1. Gov. Bill Haslam (R) supported the constitutional amendment, and has expressed willingness to sign most bills to restricting reproductive rights.
The state capitol building in Austin remained quiet during 2014, as the bicameral Texas legislature was out of session. It’s difficult to predict the impact the 84th Texas legislature will have on reproductive rights when state lawmakers return to Austin for the 2015 session. The 2013 session saw dozens of bills designed to restrict reproductive rights in a variety of ways. The battle over reproductive rights in the Lone Star State culminated in the debate over SB 5 and state Sen. Wendy Davis (D) filibustering the bill for 11 hours. Davis was joined by thousands of protesters both in and outside of the capitol building. The policy and political priorities of the newly elected Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick (R) are still unclear. However, it’s clear that Texas will once again play an outsized role in the continued effort by Republican-controlled state legislatures to turn back the clock on reproductive rights.
While legislative battles over workers’ rights and Republican-led cuts to the state’s social safety net may play the most prominent role in Wisconsin’s upcoming legislative session, there may be significant attempts to roll back reproductive rights in Wisconsin. Lawmakers introduced several anti-choice bills during the 2014 legislative session. A bill that requires doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was signed into law by Gov. Scott Walker (R), but a U.S. federal court blocked the law from taking effect. The Wisconsin Right to Life will lobby anti-choice lawmakers in 2015 to introduce several bills to restrict reproductive rights. Among the anti-choice bills highest on their list of priorities is a ban on abortions after 20 weeks’ gestation.