Roundups Law and Policy

Legislative Lowlights: Republicans Use Secular Humanism to Attack LGBTQ Rights

Brie Shea

State-level GOP lawmakers are taking policy advice from an electronic dance music producer who wants to ban same-sex marriage in the United States.

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.

Arkansas and Kentucky legislators inched closer to total abortion bans should U.S. Supreme Court conservatives strike down Roe v. Wade; at least 13 states are now considering heartbeat bans; and Republicans in multiple states are still trying to end same-sex marriage by linking it to secular humanism, which they claim is a religion.

Arkansas

Arkansas Republicans, joined by a trio of Democrats, last week passed SB 149, which would ban abortion statewide if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The “Human Life Protection Act” passed the state house on Thursday by a 72-20 vote. Except in cases of medical emergency, the GOP-backed law would make it a felony—punishable by up to ten years in prison—to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. The measure now heads to Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R), who plans to sign the bill this week. Arkansas would be the fifth state (after Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, and North Dakota) to have a “trigger law” that would re-criminalize abortion should Roe v. Wade fall.

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Not content with waiting for the fall of Roe, state Rep. Robin Lundstrum (R-Elm Springs) introduced a measure to ban abortion after 18 weeks. Except in cases of medical emergency, the “Cherish Act” would prohibit physicians from performing or inducing an abortion without first determining the probable gestational age of the fetus; if the physician determines the fetus to be at 18 weeks’ gestation, they would be prohibited from performing an abortion. A physician who performs an abortion in violation of the law would face felony charges, punishable by up to six years in prison.

State Rep. Clint Penzo (R-Springdale) on Wednesday introduced a measure that would require informed consent for abortion when a fetus has been diagnosed with a lethal anomaly to include perinatal hospice information. The “Perinatal Hospice Information Act” would require a physician to inform a pregnant person about perinatal hospice services available in Arkansas and across the United States. Except in cases of medical emergency, the physician would be required to provide the information at least 72 hours prior to the abortion. A physician who fails to provide the information would lose their medical license.

Idaho

In a 29-6 vote, the Idaho state senate last week passed a ban on so-called partial birth abortion. The measure would update the Idaho Partial-Birth Abortion ban—which has been unenforceable since 1999—so it’s consistent with federal law that bans the performance of a partial-birth abortion except when necessary to the save a pregnant person’s life. The original ban was ruled unconstitutional for being vague and lacking exceptions to protect the life of the pregnant person. The measure still needs approval from the state house and governor—but it seems likely since Republicans have complete control of the Idaho state government.

Illinois

Republicans in Illinois last week introduced measures that would redefine “viability” and prohibit abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected. State law prohibits the performance of an abortion once a fetus is considered viable—around 23 weeks to 24 weeks gestation—unless it’s necessary to preserve the “life or health” of the pregnant person. HB 2384 would further tighten the exception to only allow a post-viability abortion for cases in which a pregnant person’s life or major bodily function is threatened. Except in cases of medical emergency, it would be a felony to perform an abortion when a fetus is viable.

Building from that, HB 2462 would redefine “viability” to include when, in the medical judgment of the attending physician, the fetus has a heartbeat. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy—well before many people even realize that they are pregnant. So, if both measures were to pass, Illinois would have a near-total abortion ban with the only exception being a serious physical medical emergency.

Iowa

Republican state Sen. Randy Feenstra last week introduced SF 259, which would amend the Iowa criminal code to define “person” as a living human from the moment of conception. The measure provides that every person is accorded the same rights and protections guaranteed to all people by the U.S. Constitution and the Iowa State Constitution. Contraception and legitimate medical treatment for life-threatening situations would not constitute a crime against a person. However, the measure doesn’t include an abortion exception. If it passes, physicians who perform an abortion could potentially be charged with a crime.

Kansas

Kansas Republicans last week introduced a handful of measures targeting abortion rights and LGBTQ rights. Lawmakers in both chambers introduced measures to require abortion providers to inform their patients that it may be possible to “reverse” the effects of a medication abortion—a treatment that remains unproven. Under HB 2274/SB 167, a physician would be charged with a misdemeanor for failing to relay the misinformation created by anti-choice legislation mills. Four states (Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah) require physicians to provide “reversal” information.

State Rep. Randy Garber (R-Sabetha) introduced two measures that would define same-sex marriage as “parody marriage.” The “Optional Elevated Marriage Act” would establish an optional “elevated marriage” for straight couples seeking heightened standards of commitment. Straight couples who obtain an “elevated marriage” would only be able to divorce under certain circumstances (adultery, abuse, criminal activity, and living apart for an extended period of time).

The “Marriage and Constitution Restoration Act” would prohibit the state from enforcing or respecting any policy that recognizes same-sex couples, transgender people, and the entire LGBTQ community. The measure claims that the LGBTQ community is directly linked to a religion known as secular humanism, and therefore same-sex marriage and other policies that support the community are unconstitutional. The measures would prohibit the state from enforcing or favoring a number of other policies including: laws that ban conversion therapy, sexual orientation anti-discrimination laws, allowing people to change the sex marker on their birth certificate, and even allowing “Drag Queen Storytime” events at public facilities.

Garber also introduced HB 2318, which would prohibit the state from funding or promoting abortion because abortion—much like the LGBTQ community—is apparently inseparably linked to the religion of secular humanism. The measure would prohibit the state from awarding public money to an entity that performs abortions or otherwise facilitates the entity’s ability to perform an abortion. Similar measures this year have been introduced by GOP lawmakers in Oklahoma and Tennessee.

Secular humanism isn’t the only theme tying these measures together. Each bill was originally authored by Chris Sevier—an ex-lawyer turned electronic dance music producer—who has spent the last few years trolling state and federal courts with frivolous lawsuits in an attempt to gut LGBTQ rights. When he isn’t trying to use the courts to end same-sex marriage or stop drag queens from reading books to children, he spends his time lobbying state legislators. In fact, Garber introduced three other bills of Sevier’s: a social media anti-censorship measure, and two separate measures that would tax or impose a fee in order to access porn or enter a strip club.

Kentucky

Kentucky’s House of Representatives last week passed HB 148, which would ban abortion statewide if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The “Human Life Protection Act” passed the state house on Friday by a 69-20 vote. Much like the “trigger law” that passed last week in Arkansas, the measure would make it a felony—punishable by up to five years in prison—to perform an abortion unless it were to save the life of the pregnant person. The measure now heads to the state senate.

In a 31-6 vote, the Kentucky State Senate last week passed SB 9, which would ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The measure would make it a felony—punishable by up to five years in prison—to perform or induce an abortion on a pregnant person once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The bill would also allow the state to conduct inspections of abortion clinics to ensure that they are in compliance with state reporting requirements. The measure now heads to the state house.

Minnesota

On Thursday, state lawmakers introduced measures to require physicians performing an abortion to offer their patients the opportunity to view an ultrasound image of the fetus. HF 1108/SF 1168 would allow the pregnant patient to decline to view the active ultrasound. The measures failed to pass in 2018.

Mississippi

State lawmakers last week passed a pair of bills that would potentially ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many people know they’re pregnant. In an 81-36 vote, the state house passed HB 732, while the state senate passed SB 2116 by a 34-14 vote. Both measures would prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected unless it’s necessary to prevent death or serious harm of the pregnant patient.

Gov. Phil Bryant (R) applauded the passage of the bills and intends to sign the legislation.

Montana

In a 56-43 vote, Montana’s House of Representatives on Friday passed HB 302, which would propose a state constitutional amendment to grant rights to embryos and fetuses. The proposal would define “person” to apply to “all members of mankind at any stage of development, beginning at the stage of fertilization or conception, regardless of age, health, level of functioning, or condition of dependency.” The “personhood” amendment would effectively ban abortion—and possibly even birth control, IUDs, and emergency contraception. The measure now heads to the state senate. If successful, it would be on the ballot in November 2020.

That same day, state Rep. Lola Sheldon-Galloway (R-Great Falls) introduced a measure to ban abortion after 20 weeks. Except in cases of medical emergency, HB 500 would prohibit physicians from performing or inducing an abortion without first determining the probable gestational age of the fetus. It would be a felony to perform an abortion once a fetus has been determined to be at 20 weeks’ gestation.

The state senate last week passed SB 100, which would require abortion providers to inform patients of the opportunity to view ultrasound images of the fetus and listen to the fetal heart tone prior to the performance of an abortion. The measure—which passed last Tuesday by a 31-19 vote—is now pending in the state house judiciary committee.

New Mexico

Republican lawmakers last week introduced an omnibus anti-abortion bill that would make several changes to state law regarding abortion. The “Women’s Health & Safety Act” would allow health-care providers to refuse to perform abortions; require abortion providers to be licensed by the state; require providers to inform patients on the risks of abortion; require parental notification for a minor seeking abortion; require abortion complication reporting; and effectively prohibit abortion care after 20 weeks. The measure makes a legal presumption that viability occurs at the 20th week of pregnancy—but also requires a physician to consider the weight and lung maturity of the fetus when determining viability. If the fetus is viable and an abortion is necessary to save the pregnant person’s life, it would need to be performed at a hospital.

Lawmakers last week introduced an additional measure to allow health-care facilities to refuse to admit any patient for the purposes of performing an abortion. The measure would allow a person to refuse to participate in any medical procedures that will result in the termination of a pregnancy if they have any moral, religious, or personal conviction objections. The measure is similar to the “Health Care Freedom of Conscience Act” and a provision of the “Women’s Health & Safety Act.”

Democrats enjoy large majorities in both of New Mexico’s legislative chambers, making it unlikely that these measures will advance.

New York

Republicans last week introduced A 5389, which would ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The measure would make it a felony—punishable by up to four years in prison—to perform an abortion without first determining whether the fetus has a detectable heartbeat. Democrats have complete control of the New York state government, so this bill won’t go anywhere. Just keeping receipts.

North Carolina

Lawmakers from both chambers last week introduced additional measures—HB 53 and SB 52—to require physicians who prescribe the abortion pill to inform patients that it’s possible to “reverse” the effects of medication abortion. The so-called “A Second Chance for LIFE Act” is similar to the “Women’s Right to Know Act,” which was introduced this month. The new measures include a hotline for patients to call for more information on the “abortion reversal” process, which is considered bunk by the medical community.

Last Tuesday, GOP lawmakers introduced a pair of measures ban dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures—the most common method of performing second-trimester abortions. HB 54/SB 51 would make it unlawful to perform a “dismemberment abortion” unless it’s necessary to prevent serious health risks to the pregnant person or to save their life. Mississippi and West Virginia prohibit the procedure, but courts have blocked or temporarily enjoined the law in seven states. Ohio became the tenth state to pass a D and E ban in December. That law is already being challenged in court.

Kansas lawmakers weren’t the only ones worried about secular humanism last week. Republicans in North Carolina introduced the “Marriage Amendment Reaffirmation Act” which would reaffirm the same-sex marriage ban that was approved by North Carolina voters in 2012 and later overturned. The measure defines same-sex marriage as “parody marriage” and claims it and all “self-asserted sex-based identity narratives and sexual orientations that do not follow the scientifically obvious biology of the human species are inseparably part of the religion of secular humanism.”

This language is—of course—courtesy of aforementioned troll Sevier. North Carolina is the fourth state this year (after Kansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee) to introduce his legislation regarding secular humanism. Just a reminder, Sevier—who has a history of stalking and assault—is the guy who wanted to “marry” his laptop, tried to sue Democratic lawmakers for hanging a rainbow flag outside their offices, and even tried to sue A&E for suspending one of the guys from Duck Dynasty. Good to know so many GOP lawmakers are taking him seriously.

Ohio

Ohio lawmakers last week reintroduced the “heartbeat bill,” which would make abortion illegal once a fetal heartbeat is detected. HB 68/SB 23 would potentially ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Similar measures approved by the Ohio Legislature were twice vetoed by former Gov. John Kasich (R). Instead, he signed bans on D and E procedures and abortion at 20 weeks—so he’s still no moderate. Current Gov. Mike DeWine (R) says he will “absolutely” sign the so-called heartbeat measure. For those keeping score, lawmakers in 13 states have introduced “heartbeat” bans this year.

State senators last week introduced SB 27, which would require aborted fetal remains from an abortion facility to be buried or cremated. The measure would allow the pregnant person seeking a surgical abortion to choose cremation or internment. If the patient doesn’t want to, the abortion facility would need to determine the method of final disposition.

South Carolina

State Rep. Steven Long (R-Boiling Springs) last week introduced H 3983, which would make it a criminal act to perform an abortion during any trimester if the sole reason for the abortion is due to the existence of a fetal anomaly. The measure would eliminate the fetal anomaly exception to the prohibition of abortion when the post-fertilization age of the fetus is 20 weeks or more. Under state law, “fetal anomaly” refers to an anomaly that would be incompatible with sustaining life after birth. The measure is pending in the state house judiciary committee.

South Dakota

The South Dakota House of Representatives last week passed HB 1108, which would prohibit public schools from providing instruction in gender dysphoria to students in kindergarten through seventh grade. Originally prohibiting instruction in gender identity or gender expression, the measure was amended and passed by a 39-30 vote. During debate for the measure, state Rep. Tom Pischke (R-Dell Rapids) said schools shouldn’t be “teaching and confusing our young children to be more susceptible to this dysphoria.” The measure is now pending in the senate state affairs committee.

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