Roundups Law and Policy

Here’s What to Expect from ‘Emboldened’ State Anti-Choice Lawmakers in 2017

Teddy Wilson

Lawmakers in many states have passed restrictions on abortion care in recent years. Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute told Rewire that this may push legislators to either heighten the severity of those restrictions or pass even more extreme ones that erode abortion care access.

Reproductive rights advocates are looking toward the upcoming year with both apprehension and resolve, as Republican governors in 33 states and Republican majorities in 66 legislative chambers across the country lay the groundwork for further assaults on reproductive rights.

Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute told Rewire that she expects state legislatures nationwide to take up measures meant to erode all manner of reproductive freedoms. 

“Because of what happened in the 2016 elections, 2017 looks to be another year where we’re going to have to face a number of abortion restrictions, as well as an onslaught against contraception,” Nash said. 

President-elect Donald Trump and Republican majorities in Congress have reinvigorated state lawmakers, who have pre-filed an arsenal of anti-choice bills in preparation for next year’s legislative sessions.

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“Conservative legislators are feeling very emboldened,” Nash said.

There will be 41 state legislatures in session within the first two weeks of the new year. Forty-eight state legislatures will be in session by the beginning of February.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, urged elected officials to “stand up against this decades-long crusade” against reproductive rights.

“As we embark on 2017, we must hold our leaders accountable to the Constitutional protections guaranteed in [Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt],” Northup said in a statement. “A woman’s ability to access basic reproductive health care services like contraception or a safe, legal abortion are essential to her health and well-being.”

State lawmakers are likely to introduce bills that target abortion clinics with burdensome, medically unnecessary regulations; to require people seeking abortion services to receive anti-choice counseling or forced ultrasounds; to institute bans on specific types of abortion procedures and on abortion care before viability; or to institute bans on abortion even before most people know they’re pregnant.

Lawmakers in many states have passed restrictions on abortion care in recent years. Nash told Rewire that this may push legislators to either heighten the severity of those restrictions or pass even more extreme ones that erode abortion care access.

“A state with multiple restrictions revisits those restrictions to make them worse or more burdensome,” Nash said. “An example of this is to increase penalties, or another example is to increase a waiting period from 24 to 48 hours.”

In some cases, in the face of increasingly extreme legislation, bills restricting access to abortion may begin to appear more reasonable to voters. “When you start to see either a total abortion ban, a six-week abortion ban, or a 12-week abortion ban, it makes it look like all the other abortion restrictions are moderate,” Nash said.

Yet reproductive rights activists who have organized in states with GOP-held legislatures are not deterred by Republican gains in November.

Pamela Merritt, co-director of Reproaction, told Rewire that the organization is planning “enthusiastic resistance” to combat attacks on reproductive rights. Instead of focusing solely on elections, the group is working to build an intersectional movement, she added.

“Abortion access and reproductive justice are not cyclical based upon election results,” Merritt said. “We’re working on building a strategy that helps us expand that and fuel that.”

Some of the states that are expected to make up the front line of the coming assault on reproductive rights include Ohio, Arkansas, VirginiaIndiana, LouisianaTennessee, Iowa, and Kentucky. But as in years past, there will likely be two states leading the way: Texas and Missouri.

Texas

The U.S. Supreme Court in 2016 struck down portions of the Texas omnibus anti-choice law known as HB 2, and state lawmakers are prepared to respond to the Court’s rebuke.

Heather Busby, executive director of NARAL Pro Choice Texas, told Rewire she expects the results of the presidential election to embolden Texas Republicans.

“They’ve never backed down from an opportunity to deny rights to certain populations,” Busby said. “Whether that’s women, that’s immigrants, that’s the LGBT population.”

State lawmakers have already pre-filed ten bills that would restrict reproductive rights.

HB 87, sponsored by Rep. Matt Schaefer (R-Tyler), would remove the exception provided under Texas law that allows for abortion care in the third trimester if the “fetus has a severe and irreversible abnormality, identified by reliable diagnostic procedures.”

Busby called Schaefer’s proposal “particularly cruel,” because it targets pregnant people and families who are, she said, “facing heartbreaking situations.

SB 8, sponsored by state Sen. Charles Schwertner (R-Georgetown), is an anti-choice omnibus bill that would prohibit physicians from performing the intact dilation and evacuation (D and X) abortion procedure, referred to in the bill by the non-medical, anti-choice phrase “partial-birth abortion.” The Supreme Court upheld a federal ban on the procedure in 2007.

The bill would also increase regulations on the treatment and disposal of fetal tissue and would ban both the selling of that tissue, which is already illegal, and the donation of it. The legislative targeting of fetal tissue donation stems from the discredited smear campaign waged by the anti-choice front group known as the Center for Medical Progress, which accused Planned Parenthood of unlawfully profiting from the donation of fetal tissue. 

Multiple GOP-led investigations have cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing, but Republican attacks on the health-care organization continue unabated.

Other anti-choice bills that have been pre-filed in Texas include SB 139, which would increase the regulations on licensing of abortion clinics. HB 201 and SB 258 would require fetal remains to be buried or cremated. HB 144 would increase the reporting requirements for abortion providers—a medically unnecessary measure pushed by anti-choice legislators across the country. 

Missouri

Lawmakers in Missouri’s GOP-dominated legislature have introduced dozens of bills in recent years that would restrict reproductive rights. That will likely continue during the 2017 legislative session.

Alison Dreith, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, told Rewire that she expects to see “more of the same” from Missouri lawmakers, who she suspects will be emboldened by Trump’s victory.

SB 67, sponsored by Bob Onder (R-Lake St. Louis), would increase regulations on the donation of fetal organs or tissue, increase requirements for pathology reports on fetal organs and tissue, expand abortion provider reporting requirements, impose employee disclosure policies, and increase the inspections of facilities that provide abortion services.

Susan Klein, legislative liaison for Missouri Right to Life, said in a statement that the organization supports SB 67—the so-called Women’s Health and Clinic Safety Act—and other bills meant to chip away at abortion access throughout the state. 

Other anti-choice bills pre-filed in Missouri include HB 147 and HB 194, which would increase regulations of fetal tissue; HB 182, which would restrict minors’ access to abortion care; SB 96, which would ban abortion due to sex, race or genetic abnormality; and SB 196, which would grant broad prosecutorial power to the state’s attorney general to enforce abortion laws.

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