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Roundups Abortion

Legislative Lowlights: Republicans Advance Blatantly Unconstitutional Abortion Bills

Brie Shea

GOP-dominated legislatures are approving measures that have been deemed unconstitutional, while Rhode Island Democrats push an anti-choice bill.

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.

Republicans in Arkansas and Utah inched closer to banning abortion at 18 weeks into pregnancy, GOP legislators in Rhode Island have jumped on the secular humanism train in order to defund abortion services; and legislators in multiple states are now considering “trigger laws” that would ban abortion if Roe v.Wade falls.

Arkansas

In a 77-13 vote, the Arkansas State House of Representatives last Monday passed a measure that would make it a felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, to perform an abortion if a fetus has reached 18 weeks’ gestational age. Current state law prohibits abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation. State Reps. LeAnne Burch (D-Monticello) and Chris Richey (D-West Helena) joined Republicans in passing the “Cherish Act.”

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The measure is now pending in the senate public health, welfare, and labor committee.

State Sen. Gary Stubblefield (R-Branch) last week introduced SB 448, which would require physicians—at the risk of a felony—to be licensed to practice medicine and be board-certified or board-eligible in obstetrics and gynecology. The bill would define “viability” as a “reasonable likelihood of sustained survival of the unborn child outside the body of the mother” and repeal the state’s legal presumption that a fetus is viable at 25 weeks of pregnancy.

On Friday, the state senate passed SB 341, which would clarify what information abortion providers need to provide their patients when explaining it might be possible to “reverse” the effects of a medication abortion—an unproven treatment pushed by the anti-choice movement. Three Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 29-5 vote. The measure, which now heads to the state house, would require doctors to give a pregnant person a written notice containing “reversal” information after the first dose of abortion-inducing drugs. Arkansas in 2015 became the first state to require physicians to provide “reversal” information. Since then, lawmakers in Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah have enacted similar laws.

Florida

On Friday, state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland) pre-filed the “Parental Consent for Abortion Act.” The measure would prohibit a physician from performing an abortion upon a minor without first obtaining consent from at least one parent or guardian. Current state law requires parental notification at least two days before a minor can obtain an abortion. The measure includes exceptions for cases of medical emergency or when a minor obtains a court order waiving the requirement. Anyone who performs an abortion upon a minor without the consent required by law would be committing a misdemeanor of the first degree.

The Republican-controlled Florida legislature convenes today.

Georgia

Conservative lawmakers on Wednesday introduced the Georgia “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which would prohibit the state from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion. The bill could lead to the discrimination of the LGBTQ community by allowing people to bypass any state or local law they claim “burdens” their exercise of religion. The Georgia General Assembly in 2016 passed a similar measure—the “Free Exercise Protection Act”—before the film industry threatened to pull out of the state, and then-Gov. Nathan Deal (R) vetoed it. This year’s measure is similar to the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA)—a change current Gov. Brian Kemp (R) said the legislation would need for him to sign it.

Republicans in both chambers last week introduced HB 481/SB 218, an omnibus abortion measure that would prohibit abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected—effectively banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. Except in cases of medical emergency, the so-called “Living Infants Fairness and Equality (LIFE) Act,” would prohibit the performance of an abortion without first determining the presence of a fetal heartbeat. Current state law carves out an additional exception for pregnancies that are medically futile—an exception that this measure would remove. For those keeping score, Georgia is the 14th state this year to consider a “heartbeat” ban.

The LIFE Act would require any abortion performed after the first trimester to be performed in a licensed hospital, in a licensed ambulatory surgical center, or in a licensed abortion facility. Any person who performs an abortion would need to be a licensed physician. The measure even contains a “personhood” provision that would include embryos and fetuses in state population-based determinations.

On Thursday, state house Republicans introduced HB 546, which would ban abortion statewide if Roe v. Wade is overturned. The measure would make it a felony—punishable by up to ten years in prison—to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. The bill carves out exceptions, including medical emergencies, medically futile pregnancies, and pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Arkansas last month became the fifth state (after Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, and North Dakota) to have a “trigger” law that would immediately re-criminalize abortion should Roe v. Wade fall. Kemp has already endorsed the measure.

Kentucky

Republicans in the Kentucky General Assembly last week advanced a handful of abortion restrictions. By a 67-25 vote, the state house last Tuesday passed HB 5, which would prohibit certain selective abortions. The measure would prohibit a physician from performing an abortion without certifying whether they had knowledge that the pregnant person was seeking it solely due to a prenatal diagnosis of Down syndrome; or that the patient sought the abortion solely because of the sex or race of the fetus—a policy based on the racist assumption that Asian American women exhibit a preference for sons over daughters. Sex-selective abortion is not a widespread problem in the United States.

The so-called Human Rights of the Unborn Child and Anti-Discrimination Act is similar to a blocked 2016 Indiana law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) that is pending review at the U.S. Supreme Court.

The measure is now pending in the state senate.

In a 12-3 vote, the state house veterans, military affairs and public protection committee last Wednesday advanced SB 9, which would make it a felony to perform or induce an abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The bill contains an exception for cases of medical emergency but does not carve out exceptions for pregnancies that are a result of rape or incest. The measure is now pending in the full state house for debate. In an act of protest, state Rep. Mary Lou Marzian (D-Louisville) filed three separate amendments mocking the measure—it’s kinda her thing. One amendment would retitle the measure as a funding bill for Planned Parenthood and the ACLU; one would make it a felony for a man to ejaculate without intending to procreate; and the last would abolish all schools of medicine and nursing and instead refer citizens who need health-care services to state lawmakers. The amendments definitely won’t stick—and the “heartbeat” ban will most likely pass—but it never hurts to highlight the hypocrisy behind these measures.

On the other side of the chamber, senate lawmakers on Thursday passed the “Born Alive Infant Protection Act,” which advances anti-choice misinformation and would require health-care providers to give “medically appropriate and reasonable medical care” to all infants born after an attempted abortion. The measure—which passed by unanimous vote—would make it a felony for any health-care provider not to do everything possible to save an infant born after a failed abortion. The “Born-Alive Infant Protection Act” is based on the myth that infants are “born alive” after abortions—and that doctors then murder them.

The measure is now pending in the state house veterans, military affairs, and public protection committee.

Missouri

The Missouri house last week passed HB 126, an omnibus abortion bill that would—among other provisions—ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected and trigger a statewide abortion ban if conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. Originally introduced as a “heartbeat” ban, the measure was amended to include several anti-choice measures pending in the state legislature. Besides prohibiting abortion when a fetal heartbeat or brain function is detected, the so-called Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act would prohibit abortion at eight weeks’ gestation. If a court rules that unconstitutional, then the prohibition would be at 14 weeks. If that too was blocked in court, the prohibition would then be at 18 weeks. If that still doesn’t work, the prohibition would be at 21 weeks. The measure includes a provision that would make it a felony to perform an abortion—absent any medical emergency—at 20 weeks. So really, just trying anything that sticks at this point.

The measure would require parental notification of both parents of a minor—not just one—before they can receive abortion care. Abortion providers would need to give informed consent materials to any pregnant person they refer to an out-of-state abortion clinic. The measure would prohibit abortion if the person seeking it is doing so because of the sex or race of the fetus, or because of a prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis. Finally, the measure would require physicians to have medical malpractice insurance with coverage amounts of at least $1 million.

The omnibus abortion bill passed the state house last Wednesday by a 117-39 vote. Three Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans in voting for the measure: state Reps. Steve Butz (D-St. Louis), Joe Runions (D-Grandview), and Rory Rowland (D-Independence). The measure is now pending in the state senate.

To cap off the ridiculous week, state Rep. Hannah Kelly (R-Mountain Grove) introduced a measure to prohibit donations of aborted fetal tissue; and state Rep. Mike Moon (R-Ash Grove) introduced a measure to prohibit the state from paying federal taxes until Congress prohibits the use of federal funds for abortions. The federal Hyde Amendment already prohibits the use of federal funding for abortion, but Mike Moon is a terrible person—allegedly—and wants to remove exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest and abortions performed to save a person’s life. Seriously, Missouri. Are you OK?

Oklahoma

The state senate health and human services committee last Monday advanced a pair of anti-choice measures. The committee approved SB 195, which would trigger a statewide abortion ban if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. Originally introduced as a “personhood” measure granting rights to embryos and fetuses, the measure was amended and approved by the committee in an 11-4 vote. The committee also approved SB 614, which would require abortion providers to inform their patients that it may be possible to “reverse” the effects of a medication abortion.

Both measures now head to the full state senate floor for debate.

Rhode Island

Democratic lawmakers last Wednesday introduced H 5710, which would make aiding a minor in getting an abortion a civil and criminal offense. The measure would make it a felony to transport a minor to another state to obtain an abortion without the consent required by law.

The bill—which failed last year—is pending in the state house judiciary committee. While Rhode Island’s legislature saw an influx of pro-choice Democrats in 2018, anti-choice Democrats still run the joint.

In a strange change of pace, Republican lawmakers introduced a measure to defund abortion (state Democrats are usually the ones filing anti-choice legislation). The “Life Appropriations Act” would prohibit the state from funding or promoting abortion because abortion is “inseparably linked to the religion of secular humanism.” The measure was drafted by a group led by Chris Sevier, an anti-LGBTQ activist and electronic dance music producer. This is the fourth state (after Kansas, Oklahoma, and Tennessee) to consider using secular humanism to defund abortion. Sevier’s measures using secular humanism to go after LGBTQ rights and same-sex marriage are being considered in Kansas and North Carolina.

Sevier—who has a history of stalking and assault—is well-known for trolling state and federal courts over same-sex marriage and LGBTQ rights. Just last month, Sevier was deemed a security concern in the Missouri State Capitol. And last year, Rhode Island state Sen. Frank Ciccone (D-Providence) withdrew a porn-filter measure drafted by Sevier, citing its “dubious origins.” Ciccone’s Republican colleagues in the state house apparently didn’t get the memo.

South Dakota

In a 59-9 vote, the South Dakota house last Monday passed HB 1177, which would require physicians to offer patients the opportunity to view a sonogram and hear the heartbeat of the fetus prior to the performance of an abortion. The physician would be required to offer a description of the sonogram images if the pregnant person consents.

The measure has a hearing scheduled March 6 with the senate state affairs committee.

Texas

State Rep. Giovanni Capriglione (R-Southlake) last Wednesday introduced HB 1685, which would trigger a statewide abortion ban if the U.S. Supreme Court overturns Roe v. Wade. The measure would make performing an abortion an act of criminal homicide or assault unless the person performing the abortion is a licensed physician and the pregnant person has a life-threatening condition. There would be no exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest, or those with severe genetic anomalies. Lawmakers are considering similar measures in Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, Oklahoma, and Tennessee.

Republican lawmakers in both chambers last week introduced the “Health Care Right of Conscience Act.” HB 2892/SB 1107 would allow health-care providers to refuse to perform or participate in any health-care service that is contrary to their conscience. The bill defines “conscience” to include any moral philosophy or ethical position, regardless of whether it’s related to a religious faith. Health-care providers would be able to refuse to provide birth control or abortion to women and pregnant people. They would be able to refuse services to LGBTQ people, including transitioning treatment for trans folks. Similar refusal measures are being considered in Arkansas, Indiana, and New Mexico.

Utah

The Utah legislature on Thursday passed the “Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination Act.” The measure would prohibit a person from performing an abortion if the pregnant person’s sole reason for the abortion is that the fetus has or may have Down syndrome, unless it’s necessary to avert the death or serious risk of substantial and irreversible impairment of a major bodily function of the pregnant person. The bill is similar to a 2016 Indiana law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) that was blocked twice in federal courts and is still pending before the U.S. Supreme Court. HB 166—which cleared a final vote in the state senate by vote of 20-6— includes a “trigger clause,” meaning it would only take effect if a similar law is upheld in court elsewhere.

The measure now heads to Gov. Gary Herbert (R), who hasn’t indicated whether he will sign it.

The Utah House of Representatives last week passed two anti-choice measures. In a 72-3 vote, the state house passed HB 71, which would clarify what type of health information can be taught in sex education courses. The measure would allow instruction to include information about the medical characteristics, effectiveness, and limitations of contraceptive methods or devices while prohibiting teachers from advocating or encouraging their use.

The measure is now pending in the state senate education committee.

In a 57-15 vote, the state house passed HB 136, which would ban most abortions 18 weeks into a pregnancy. Current state law allows abortions up until a fetus is viable outside of the womb. The measure includes exceptions for rape, incest, life of the pregnant person, and if the fetus has a lethal defect or severe brain abnormality. Four Democrats joined Republicans in passing the bill: state Reps. Susan Duckworth (D-Magna), Suzanne Harrison (D-Draper), Brian S. King (D-Salt Lake City), and Christine Watkins (D-Price).

The measure is pending in the state senate judiciary, law enforcement, and criminal justice committee.

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