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Roundups Law and Policy

Legislative Lowlights: State-Level Democrats Aid GOP’s Assault on Abortion Rights

Brie Shea

Democratic lawmakers in a number of states are helping Republicans chip away at access to abortion care.

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.

Measures banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy advanced in Missouri and South Carolina; Republican lawmakers in Iowa and Tennessee approved measures targeting the LGBTQ community; and Democrats in Louisiana are helping Republicans in their effort to defund and burden abortion providers with medically unnecessary regulations.

Alabama

State Rep. Ginny Shaver (R-Centre) last Tuesday introduced HB 491, which would require a physician to exercise the same degree of care to preserve the life and health of a child born alive after an attempted abortion as they would render to any other child born at the same gestational age. A physician who fails to provide the appropriate medical treatment to a child born alive after an abortion would be charged with a Class B felony—punishable by at least 20 years in prison and a fine of at least $100,000. Born-alive measures are based on a myth that doctors are murdering children “born alive” after failed abortions. President Trump has repeatedly claimed that pregnant patients and their doctors conspire to “execute” babies. This, of course, is a lie that has become increasingly popular among anti-choice lawmakers—and is bound to incite further violence against abortion providers. At least 12 states this year have introduced similar measures.

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The bill is pending in the state house health committee.

Indiana

Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb signed two anti-choice measures into law last Wednesday: a ban on the most common method of second-trimester abortion and a religious imposition measure allowing certain health-care providers to refuse to participate in abortion care. HB 1211 makes performing a “dismemberment abortion”—a non-medical term used to describe dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures—a felony 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 similar bans have been blocked or temporarily enjoined by courts in eight states. A nearly identical ban was signed into law in North Dakota, but that measure won’t take effect unless a federal court declares the ban constitutional.

SB 201 allows nurses, physician assistants, and pharmacists to refuse to participate in an abortion—or prescribe medication abortion—if doing so would be contrary to their religious or moral beliefs. Prior state law regarding religious, moral, or ethical belief exemptions only applied to physicians or employees of hospitals and abortion facilities. Similar religious refusal measures—which pose a significant danger to patients—have been considered this year by lawmakers in Arkansas, New Mexico, Oregon, and Texas.

Both measures are scheduled to take effect on July 1, though the ACLU of Indiana has already filed a legal challenge against HB 1211.

Iowa

Republican lawmakers in Iowa this weekend passed a health budget bill that bans Medicaid coverage of any gender-affirming surgery and prohibits Planned Parenthood from accessing federal grants for sex education. The Medicaid provision would prohibit any state, local government unit, or tax-supported district from providing “sex reassignment surgery or any other cosmetic, reconstructive, or plastic surgery procedure related to transsexualism, hermaphroditism, gender identity disorder, or body dysmorphic disorder.” Similar measures are being considered in Alaska and Illinois.

The budget bill now heads to Republican Gov. Kim Reynolds for approval.

Louisiana

The state house last Wednesday passed HB 425, which asks Louisiana voters to approve a constitutional amendment that says nothing in the state constitution secures the right to abortion or requires its funding. The proposal is similar to an amendment approved by voters last year in West Virginia. Similar ballot measure proposals are being considered in Iowa and Oklahoma. The following 20 Democratic state representatives joined Republicans to pass the Louisiana measure in an 81-10 vote:

The proposal is now pending in the state senate judiciary committee.

The state senate last Tuesday passed SB 221, which would require abortion providers to give their patients certain information about their doctor prior to providing abortion care. Any past disciplinary actions or license suspensions would need to be disclosed to a patient seeking abortion care. More than a dozen Democratic state senators joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 38-0 vote:

The measure is now pending in the state house health and welfare committee.

On Thursday, two measures targeting abortion providers advanced out of committee. HB 133 would revise the definition of “abortion” in the state’s Outpatient Abortion Facility Licensing Law to make it applicable to medication abortion as well as surgical procedures. And HB 484 would establish additional requirements for physicians, administrators, and owners of abortion facilities regarding their patient’s medical records.

Both measures are now pending in the full state house.

Missouri

The senate fiscal oversight committee approved 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. The so-called Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act would also make it a felony to perform an abortion at eight weeks’ gestation. If a court rules that unconstitutional, then the prohibition would be at 14 weeks. If a court strikes that down as well, the prohibition would be at 18 weeks. If that doesn’t work, the prohibition would be at 20 weeks.

The measure would require parental notification of both parents of a minor—not just one—before they can receive abortion care. Abortion providers would be required to give informed consent materials to any pregnant person they refer to an out-of-state abortion clinic. Physicians would need to have medical malpractice insurance with coverage amounts of at least $1 million.

The measure would also prohibit abortion if the person seeking it is doing so because of the sex or race of the fetus (a racist policy based on the assumption that certain populations prefer sons over daughters), or because of a potential prenatal Down syndrome diagnosis (a policy used to pit reproductive rights against the rights of those with disabilities).

The measure—which passed the state house in February—is now pending in the full state senate. It will need to pass the senate and be concurred in the state house before the session ends on May 17.

Oklahoma

Republican Gov. Kevin Stitt signed SB 614, a law that requires abortion providers to inform their patients that it may be possible to “reverse” a medication abortion. A person who provides a medication abortion without first giving their patient this information would be charged with a felony. Any clinic that fails to post a sign containing similar information would be fined $10,000. Legislators in six states (Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Utah) have enacted laws regarding the unproven treatment. A similar law in Kansas was vetoed earlier this month.

SB 614 is scheduled to take effect on November 1.

South Carolina

The state house on Thursday passed H 3020, which would ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The measure would prohibit a person from performing, inducing, or attempting to perform an abortion on a pregnant person when a fetal heartbeat has been detected. A person who performs an abortion in violation would be guilty of a felony—punishable by a fine of $10,000 and/or two years in prison. Three Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans to pass the near total abortion ban in a 64-22 vote: state Reps. Frank “Lucas” Atkinson (D-Marion), Jackie Hayes (D-Dillon), and Russell Ott (D-St. Matthews). Legislators in 15 states have introduced “heartbeat bans” this session—four states (Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio) have passed the near total abortion ban. The measure in Georgia is awaiting signature. The laws in Kentucky and Mississippi are already facing legal challenges, with Ohio soon to follow. Similar bans have been blocked in Arkansas and North Dakota.

The measure is now pending in the state senate medical affairs committee.

Tennessee

The senate judiciary committee approved two measures targeting the LGBTQ community last Tuesday. SB 1304 would—to the extent allowed by federal law—prohibit a private licensed child-placing agency from being required to perform or participate in any child placement for foster care or adoption that would violate the agency’s written religious or moral convictions. Ten states allow state-licensed child welfare agencies to discriminate against same-sex couples and other prospective parents based on the agency’s religious beliefs.

SB 1499 would direct the state attorney general to defend local school districts in any court or administrative tribunal arising out of the adoption of a policy designating multi-person restrooms, locker rooms, or other facilities for use based only on one’s biological sex.

The Tennessee Titans football team released a statement opposing the legislation:

The Tennessee Titans oppose discrimination in any form. We are long-standing supporters of Tennessee Thrives. Discriminatory legislation hurts all of us. It also impacts our ability to secure events like the 2019 NFL Draft, major conventions, major athletic contests and other events that benefit our local and state economy. It also weakens our ability to recruit new business and industry to Nashville and to Tennessee. We would encourage our elected officials to keep us on a path that protects all our citizens, our growth and our economy.

Both measures are scheduled for consideration in the full state senate on April 30.

Texas

The state senate passed SB 24 last Tuesday, a bill that would clarify when a physician needs to provide to a person seeking an abortion state-printed informational materials containing information on public and private agencies and services available to assist a person through pregnancy, childbirth, and the child’s dependency. Under current state law, a physician is not required to furnish copies of the materials if the pregnant person provides the physician with a written statement that they want to view the materials on the department’s website. SB 24 would require doctors to hand the pamphlets directly to patients in certain circumstances. Three Democratic state senators joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 22-9 vote:

  • Juan Hinojosa (McAllen)
  • Eddie Lucio Jr. (Brownsville)
  • Judith Zaffirini (Laredo)

The measure is now pending in the state house public health committee.

The state senate committee on health and human services on Thursday advanced SB 2243, which would require a pregnant person to undergo counseling in addition to meeting with a physician to go over informed consent requirements prior to receiving abortion care. The counselor would need to be approved by the state and could not be employed by, contracted with, or have a pecuniary interest in an abortion facility. The measure could be used as a backdoor instrument to get anti-choice personnel inside abortion clinics. It is now pending in the full state senate.

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