Rewire.News tracks anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through state legislatures. Here’s an overview of the bills we’re watching.
Lawmakers in Colorado, Indiana, and Texas want to criminalize abortion, a lawmaker in Oklahoma is trying to prohibit abortion when the sex of the fetus is known, and transgender students are being targeted again in Indiana and South Dakota.
Last Monday, lawmakers in the state house of representatives introduced the “Protect Human Life at Conception Act,” a fetal homicide bill that would prohibit terminating or causing the termination of a pregnancy, beginning at the moment of conception. The measure would completely ban abortion and make it a felony—punishable by life imprisonment or even the death penalty—to perform an abortion or cause the termination of a pregnancy. It contains an exception to save the life of the pregnant person, but not for cases of rape or incest. A pregnant person who has an abortion would not be charged. Despite containing personhood language, the bill clarifies that the sale, prescription, and use of contraception would not be prohibited.
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Colorado wasn’t the only state to see a total abortion ban presented last week. On Tuesday, state Rep. Curt Nisly (R-Goshen) introduced HB 1430, which would completely ban abortion in the state of Indiana. The measure doesn’t include exceptions for rape, incest, or medical emergency. The bill asserts that “human physical life” begins at fertilization and that federal courts have no jurisdiction to interfere with Indiana’s interest in “protecting human physical life from the moment that human physical life begins.” Under this measure, all abortions in Indiana would be considered murder. The language of the bill is so broad that miscarriages could be considered manslaughter, and IVF could also be considered illegal.
Last Monday, state Rep. Gregory Porter (D-Indianapolis) introduced HB 1426, which would allow a parent to request a certificate of birth resulting in stillbirth when the fetus had a gestational age of less than 20 weeks. The bill stops short of actually requiring a stillbirth that occurs prior to 20 weeks’ gestation to be registered with the state. Stillbirths are typically defined as any natural fetal death that occurs after 20 weeks of pregnancy. Anything prior to that is usually considered a miscarriage since the fetus isn’t considered viable.
On Thursday, state Rep. Bruce Borders (R-Jasonville) introduced HB 1525, a measure to ban transgender students from using school facilities or participating in an athletic program that corresponds with their gender identity. The bill would require student facilities—locker rooms, restrooms, or shower rooms—in public school buildings to be designated for use by female students or male students according to their biological sex as identified at birth. The same goes for any athletic program or team that a student may wish to join.
On the other side of the chamber, one lawmaker wants to end fetal stem cell research. State Sen. Elizabeth Brown (R-Fort Wayne) introduced SB 584, which would prohibit any fetal stem cell research by the state, a state educational institution, or a political subdivision that receives public funds. In 2016, the state enacted an omnibus anti-choice measure that regulated the use of aborted fetal tissue. The law was blocked in federal court and a petition for review is still pending at the U.S. Supreme Court.
More “heartbeat” bans! Two more measures prohibiting abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected were introduced in the Mississippi House last week (following a ban filed in the state Senate earlier this month). Both bills require physicians to test for a fetal heartbeat prior to the performance of an abortion, but there are some slight differences. HB 529 would require physicians to use an abdominal ultrasound to check for a heartbeat—which typically detect fetal heartbeats anywhere between nine and 12 weeks’ gestation. HB 732 doesn’t specify what type of ultrasound to use—so it could ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The measure also requires physicians to inform patients of the statistical probability of bringing the fetus to term.
Two pieces of legislation aimed at curtailing the use of aborted fetal tissue were also introduced last week in the state. HB 621 would make it a felony to use stem cells in any research or therapy procedures if they were derived from aborted fetal tissue. SB 2171 would establish requirements for the final disposition of fetal remains, and prohibit the sale or transfer of fetal remains obtained from an abortion. The measure—sponsored by state Sen. Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula)—is based off model legislation drafted by Americans United For Life (AUL).
State Sen. Watson also introduced SB 2170, which would prohibit the use of public funds from being used for an abortion, or for training to perform an abortion. The “Defunding the Abortion Industry Act” would also ban any public institution, facility, equipment, or other physical asset controlled by the state from being used for the purpose of performing or assisting an abortion. State hospitals would be prohibited from entering into a contract with abortion providers. State-based health clinics would be prohibited from performing, counseling, or referring for abortion services, or dispensing emergency contraception.
Last Monday, lawmakers in New York introduced a measure to allow any person or fetus in any stage of gestation to be the victim of an assault or homicide. The “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” would not apply to lawful abortions or any otherwise necessary medical treatment that results in a fetal death. The bill is similar to several previously failed measures in New York—and with Democrats now in complete control of the state government, it will likely fail.
The North Dakota House Human Services Committee heard testimony Monday on a measure that would ban the most common method of performing second-trimester abortions. Except in cases of a medical emergency, the “Human Dismemberment Abortion” ban would make it a felony to perform dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures. North Dakota is the fourth state this year (after Indiana, Rhode Island, and South Carolina) to introduce such a measure. Ohio became the tenth state to enact a D and E ban last month, but the law is blocked in seven states.
Lawmakers in Oklahoma last week continued prefiling legislation in anticipation of the 2019 legislative session set to begin next month. Freshman state Rep. Tammy Townley (R-Ardmore) prefiled HB 1396, which would prohibit performing an abortion if the pregnant person knows the sex of the fetus. The measure would require physicians to ask pregnant patients if they know the sex of the fetus they are carrying. If they do—and absent any medical emergency—the physician would be prohibited from going through with the abortion. Contrary to the racist arguments in favor of such measures, sex-selective abortion is not a widespread problem in the United States. Sex-selective bans usually prohibit abortion if the sex of the fetus is the reason for the abortion. This bill goes even further and bans abortion if a patient simply knows the sex of the fetus.
On Thursday, state Sen. Joseph Silk (R-Broken Bow) prefiled yet another ridiculous piece of anti-choice legislation. The so-called “Life Appropriation Act” would prohibit state funding of abortion because such funding would be an endorsement of “nonsecular conduct that is inseparably linked to the religion of Secular Humanism.” And if there is one thing conservative lawmakers hate, it’s favoring one religion over another. The measure refers to certain abortions as “convenience abortions” and claims that abortion clinics “erode community standards of decency by encouraging promiscuity and normalizing false permission-giving beliefs about sex.” Silk made headlines last month when he prefiled a measure to make abortion a homicide. Still, he doesn’t get all the credit for this new measure. The “Life Appropriation Act” was actually drafted by a group that calls themselves the “Special Forces of Liberty.” The group is led by Chris Sevier, who has spent the last few years trolling state and federal courts with lawsuits in an attempt to gut LGBTQ rights. He was also behind measures filed last year in Missouri, South Carolina, and Wyoming that sought to end recognition of same-sex marriage by defining them as “parody marriage.”
Measures to classify abortion as unprofessional conduct were prefiled in both chambers of the state legislature. With slight variations, HB 1182 and SB 867 would revoke the medical license of a physician who participates in the performance of an abortion that isn’t necessary to save the life of a pregnant patient. The measures would also amend state law regarding who may perform abortions to prohibit any person from performing or inducing an abortion.
Two other measures prefiled last week target abortion clinics. SB 857 would require all abortion clinics to be licensed by the state department of health. A person who operates an abortion clinic without a valid license would be guilty of a misdemeanor. The department would need to establish rules for conducting inspections and investigations pursuant to complaints received by the state and made against any abortion facility—allowing anyone to harass a clinic and cause repeated and unnecessary inspections. SB 327 would require the state department of health to maintain on its website a list of all infractions discovered through investigations and inspections conducted at abortion facilities.
On Thursday, state Sen. Julie Daniels (R-Bartlesville) prefiled a measure to require abortion providers to inform their patients that it may be possible to reverse the effects of a medication abortion—a treatment medical organizations warn is “unproven and unethical.” A physician who performs an abortion and fails to inform a pregnant person of the possibility of reversing the effects of medication abortion would be guilty of a felony. SB 614 would also require abortion providers—at the risk of a fine—to post a sign in the building containing information on reversing the effects of medication abortion. Despite being an unproven treatment, four states (Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah) require providing abortion “reversal” information.
Last Monday, conservative lawmakers in the state senate introduced a measure to ban transgender high school students from participating in athletic programs consistent with their gender identity. The bill would directly override the authority of the South Dakota High School Activities Association, which allows participation for all students regardless of their gender identity or expression in an environment free from discrimination. The measure would designate the sexual identity noted on a student’s birth certificate as the sole determinant of sexual identity for the purpose of participating in high school athletics. Similar measures in the state—along with a handful of bathroom panic bills—have all failed to pass. The bill is scheduled for a hearing this Thursday with the state senate education committee.
On Thursday, state Rep. Tony Tinderholt (R-Arlington) reintroduced a measure to criminalize abortion at any stage. Similar to the measure prefiled last month in Oklahoma, the “Abolition of Abortion in Texas Act” would completely ban abortion—even for pregnancies that result from rape or incest, or those with severe genetic anomalies. If passed, all parties involved in an abortion (physicians, nurses, the pregnant patient, etc.) may face murder charges. State Rep. Tinderholt originally introduced the measure in 2017, and at the time defended the proposal by saying criminalizing abortion would “force” women to be more “personally responsible” when it comes to sex.
On Friday, state Sen. Donna Campbell (R-New Braunfels) introduced a measure to further restrict state funding of abortion. SB 389 would prohibit a governmental entity from entering into a taxpayer resource transaction with an abortion provider or an affiliate of a provider. Prohibited transactions would include a sale, purchase, lease, donation of money, goods, services, or real property, or any other transaction that provides the abortion provider or affiliate something of value from state or local tax revenue. The bill is similar to a handful of measures which failed to pass during the 2017 legislative session.
State Rep. Cheryl Action (R-West Jordan) prefiled on Wednesday a measure to ban abortion after 15 weeks (Utah currently bans abortion after 20 weeks). HB 136 would only allow for the performance of an abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation if it’s necessary to save the life or prevent an irreversible impairment of the pregnant patient; if the fetus has a lethal defect; or if the pregnancy is a result of rape or incest, and a physician verifies it has been reported to law enforcement. Louisiana and Mississippi last year enacted laws banning abortion after 15 weeks’ gestation. A federal judge struck down the 15-week ban in Mississippi, declaring the law “unequivocally” unconstitutional. Mississippi has appealed. The law in Louisiana will only take effect if the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upholds Mississippi’s ban.
Last Tuesday, state Rep. Kathy Byron (R-Bedford) introduced a joint resolution that proposes an amendment to the state constitution to prohibit taxes or any other state revenue from being used to pay for abortions, unless such funds are used to preserve the life of the pregnant person. A similar constitutional amendment prohibiting the funding of abortion was approved by voters in West Virginia last year.
Anti-choice lawmakers in Washington last week introduced a measure to require parental notification of a minor seeking an abortion. SB 5185 would prohibit any person from performing an abortion upon a pregnant minor unless that person has given at least 48 hours notice (in person or over the phone) to a parent or legal guardian. A person who fails to provide the required notice would be guilty of a misdemeanor. Notification wouldn’t be required if there is a medical emergency or if the minor obtains a court order.
Last Tuesday, conservative lawmakers in Wyoming introduced a measure to impose a 48-hour waiting period before an abortion is be performed. HB 140 would only allow the mandatory waiting period to be waived when there is a medical emergency that endangers the pregnant person. The bill was scheduled to have it’s first hearing today, January 22, with the state house judiciary committee.