Roundups Abortion

Legislative Lowlights: Alaska Republicans Join the Campaign to End Legal Abortion

Brie Shea

Alaska GOP lawmakers want to classify an embryo or fetus as a “person” when referring to the victim of a crime—meaning any person who obtains or provides an abortion would be subject to assault/homicide charges.

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.

A measure criminalizing abortion—for both providers and pregnant people—was introduced in Alaska, Republican lawmakers in Wisconsin passed a handful of anti-choice measures, and legislation in Texas targeting Planned Parenthood and forcing pregnant people to carry nonviable fetuses to term moved forward.

Alabama

Republican Gov. Kay Ivey last Wednesday signed HB 314, the nation’s most severe and restrictive abortion ban. Except in cases in which abortion is necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the pregnant person, the measure makes abortion a Class A felony—punishable by up to 99 years in prison. An attempted abortion would be a Class C felony, punishable by one to ten years in prison. Republicans in the state senate last week passed the law in a 25-6 vote. The measure doesn’t include exceptions for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.

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The bill is scheduled to take effect in November, and the ACLU is preparing to launch a legal challenge. For now, abortion is still legal in the state of Alabama.

Alaska

Not to be outdone, Alaska state Rep. David Eastman (R-Wasilla) last Wednesday introduced HB 178, which would ban legal abortion in Alaska by making it a felony crime—with no exceptions for the health or life of the pregnant person or for victims of rape or incest. The measure would repeal all state provisions regulating abortion and define a “preborn child” as a natural person. The bill would define abortion to mean the “death of a child as the result of action taken before or during the birth of the child with the intent to cause the death of the child.” The bill seeks to circumvent pregnant people’s constitutional rights by providing that the intentional taking of human life “before, during, or after birth” is not protected by a right to privacy under the state constitution.

HB 178 would amend the state’s criminal code to redefine “person” when referring to the victim of a crime. Current Alaska law requires that a person be alive at the time of the criminal act. The bill would amend this requirement to include a child that is “in the process of developing the ability to meet the criteria under this section to be alive.” This would effectively classify any embryo or fetus as a “person” when referring to the victim of a crime, meaning anyone who obtains an abortion (or performs one) would be subject to assault/homicide charges. In Alaska, murder in the first degree is punishable by 30 to 99 years in prison. A person convicted of murder in the second degree would face 20 to 99 years in prison if they are convicted of the murder of a child under 16 years of age and the court finds that the defendant was a natural parent or legal guardian of the victim.

You might remember Eastman as the guy who claimed folks get pregnant on purpose so they can get a free trip to the big city. He likes to compare abortion to slavery but for some reason refuses to acknowledge Black History Month. He introduced a nearly identical bill in 2017 that failed to advance.

The bill is pending in the house health and social services committee. Since it was filed on the last day of session, it won’t be addressed until next year. And in a clear example of why voting matters, Democratic state Rep. Ivy Spohnholz (Anchorage)—the committee co-chair—says she won’t hear the measure.

Louisiana

A handful of anti-choice bills advanced last week in Louisiana’s legislature. The house committee on health and welfare approved SB 184, a measure that would prohibit a person from performing an abortion when a fetal “heartbeat” has been detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, before many know they’re pregnant. The measure includes exceptions for an abortion when it’s necessary to prevent the death or serious injury of the pregnant person. Despite the term “heartbeat ban,” there is no heart or heartbeat at six weeks’ gestation: As Rewire.News has reported, what can be measured is electrical activity in the fetal pole, a thick area alongside the yolk sac that extends from one end of an embryo to the other. Lawmakers in 15 states have introduced these near-total abortion bans this session, and four states have passed them: Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, and Ohio. The measures in Kentucky and Mississippi are facing legal challenges. Similar bans have been blocked in Arkansas, Iowa, and North Dakota. If passed and signed into law, SB 184 would only take effect if the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit upholds the nearly identical ban being challenged in Mississippi.

The measure is now pending final passage in the full state house, with a possible vote this week.

The state senate is scheduled to vote Tuesday on 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, New Jersey, and Oklahoma.

If passed, lawmakers in the state house would need to agree to an amendment added by the state senate judiciary committee before the bills heads to the governor.

The state senate health and welfare committee last Wednesday approved a pair of bills targeting abortion providers. 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. 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 senate, with final votes scheduled for Tuesday.

And finally, the house health and welfare committee has a hearing scheduled Tuesday for SB 221, which would require abortion providers to give their patients certain information about their doctor prior to providing abortion care—including any past disciplinary actions or license suspensions. The measure passed the state senate last month.

Michigan

Republicans lawmakers in Michigan last week were busy making it clear exactly where they stood on reproductive rights. The state house adopted a resolution declaring that it’s their policy to “protect life by preserving legal protection for unborn children” under state law.

Both GOP-led chambers followed that resolution by passing identical measures that would ban the safest, most common method of second-trimester abortion. House Bills 4320 and 4321, and Senate Bills 229 and 230 would make performing a “dismemberment abortion”—a non-medical term used to describe dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures—into a felony unless it’s necessary to save the life of the pregnant person. Mississippi and West Virginia prohibit the procedure, but similar bans have been blocked or temporarily enjoined by courts in eight states. Similar bans were signed into law this year in Indiana and North Dakota. The measure in North Dakota won’t take effect unless a federal court declares the ban constitutional, and the ban in Indiana is scheduled to take effect in July—though a legal challenge has already been launched.

Republicans in the state senate passed their bills last Tuesday in a 22-16 vote. Republicans in the state house passed their measures in a 58-51 vote. HB 4321/HB 4320 are now pending in the state senate judiciary and public safety committee, while SB 229/SB 230 are pending in the state house judiciary committee.

Only one set of bills will need to pass either chamber. If passed, Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has vowed to veto any anti-choice legislation that reaches her desk. Michigan Right to Life is preparing for a petition drive to bypass the gubernatorial veto.

State Sen. Lana Theis (R-Brighton) on Thursday introduced SB 327, which would require abortion providers to determine whether evidence of a fetal “heartbeat” can be detected using prior to performing an abortion, unless there is a medical emergency. Providers would be required to offer the pregnant person the option of hearing or seeing the evidence of the fetal “heartbeat.” The bill stops short of banning abortion once a fetal “heartbeat” is detected.

The measure is currently pending in the state senate committee on health policy and human services.

Missouri

The Missouri legislature last week passed HB 126, an omnibus abortion bill that would ban the procedure at eight weeks’ gestation and trigger a statewide abortion ban if conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade. If a court rules the eight-week ban unconstitutional, then the so-called Missouri Stands for the Unborn Act would make it a felony to perform an abortion 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 bill includes an exception for medical emergencies but not for pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest.

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. Informed consent materials would be required to include material that claims abortion could cause pain in the fetus. Physicians would need to have medical malpractice insurance with coverage amounts of at least $1 million. The bill also includes tax credits for donations to deceptive anti-choice clinics.

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).

Republicans in the state senate passed the measure early Thursday morning in a 24-10 vote. State Rep. Joe Runions (D-Grandview) joined Republicans on Friday to grant final approval in the state house in a 110-44 vote.

The measure now heads to Gov. Mike Parson (R), who intends to sign the bill into law. Once passed, Missouri will be the sixth state this year to enact a law banning abortion before many people even realize they are pregnant, and the eighth state to have a “trigger law” on the books criminalizing abortion should Roe fall.

Pennsylvania

Lawmakers in the state house last Tuesday passed HB 321, which would prohibit abortion if the procedure is being sought because the fetus has been diagnosed with Down syndrome. This kind of legislation drives a wedge between reproductive rights activists and those who advocate for disability rights. Any physician who performs an abortion in violation would lose their medical license and face between three-and-a-half to seven years in prison. The bill provides exceptions for medical emergencies and pregnancies that are the result of rape or incest. Similar measures this year were signed into law in Arkansas, Kentucky, and Utah. Kentucky’s law has already been blocked in court. Other laws have been struck down in Indiana and Ohio.

Sixteen Democratic lawmakers joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 117-76 vote:

  • Vanessa Lowery Brown (Philadelphia)
  • Frank Burns (Cambria)
  • Anthony DeLuca (Penn Hills)
  • Michael Driscoll (Philadelphia)
  • John Galloway (Bucks)
  • Neal P. Goodman (Schuylkill)
  • Bill Kortz (Allegheny)
  • Bridget M. Kosierowski (Lackawanna)
  • Anita Kulik (Allegheny)
  • Mark Longietti (Mercer)
  • Brandon Markosek (Allegheny)
  • Robert Matzie (Beaver/Allegheny)
  • Joseph Petrarca (Westmoreland)
  • Harry Readshaw (Allegheny)
  • Chris Sainato (Lawrence)
  • Pam Snyder (Greene)

The bill is now pending in the state senate along with SB 21—a similar GOP-backed Down syndrome abortion ban  introduced on Monday.

Texas

Lawmakers in the state senate on Thursday passed HB 16, which would require a physician to exercise the same degree of “professional skill, care, and diligence” to preserve the life and health of a child “born alive” after an abortion as they would render to any other child born alive at the same gestational age. This would include ensuring that any such child be transferred to a hospital. A physician who fails to provide the appropriate medical treatment would face up to ten years in prison and at least a $100,000 fine. Born-alive measures are based on a myth that doctors murder children “born alive” after failed abortions. Contrary to the repeated lies from anti-abortion groups and conservative lawmakers, this type of legislation only serves to promote violence against abortion providers.

State Sens. Eddie Lucio Jr. (D-Brownsville) and Judith Zaffirini (D-Laredo) joined Republicans to pass the measure in a 21-10 vote.

The bill has one more procedural vote in the state house before it heads to the governor.

Lawmakers in the state house on Friday passed SB 22, which would ban cities from partnering with Planned Parenthood on any of their services—including cancer screenings, teen pregnancy prevention, sex education, contraception, and more. The measure would prohibit taxpayer dollars at both the state and local level from being used to fund abortion facilities and affiliates and prohibit state and local governments from contracting with agencies that provide abortion care. Republicans amended the measure to clarify that cities and counties would not be prohibited from restricting abortion and passed the measure along party lines in an 81-65 vote.

The bill will need one more procedural vote in the state senate before it reaches the governor’s desk.

The state house public health committee last week advanced SB 24, which would clarify when a physician needs to provide a person seeking an abortion with state-printed 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 pregnant person may access the materials through conversation or online. SB 24 would require doctors to hand the pamphlets directly to patients in certain circumstances.

The measure—which passed the state senate last month—is now pending in the full state house.

The house committee on state affairs advanced SB 1033, which would force pregnant people to carry a nonviable pregnancy to term, prohibit certain selective abortions, and require perinatal palliative care information for patients carrying a fetus with a life-threatening disability. The measure would do away with an exception that currently allows allows abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy when the fetus has a “severe and irreversible” abnormality.

The bill would prohibit a person from performing an abortion if they know the patient is seeking the abortion due to the race, ethnicity, or sex of the fetus—a policy based on the racist assumption that certain populations exhibit a preference for sons over daughters. The measure would also prohibit abortion if the patient is seeking it because the fetus has or may have Down syndrome or any other disability—a policy used to pit reproductive rights against the rights of those with disabilities.

The measure—which passed the state senate earlier this month—is now pending in the full state house.

Wisconsin

Republicans in the Wisconsin State Assembly passed a handful of anti-choice measures last week. AB 179 would require health-care providers to offer the appropriate degree of care to preserve the health and life of a child “born alive” after an attempted abortion. The measure would make it a felony—punishable by up to six years in prison—to fail to provide care or ensure that the child is transferred to a hospital. The bill would make intentionally causing the death of a child “born alive” as a result of an abortion or an attempted abortion—which again, is not a thing that happens—a class A felony punishable by life imprisonment. Republicans passed the measure last Wednesday in a 62-35 vote.

In a similar 62-35 vote, Republican lawmakers in the state house passed AB 180, which would require physicians to inform their patients that it might be possible to reverse the effects of a medication abortion, an experimental and unproven treatment that hasn’t been recognized by major medical organizations. Similar measures have been enacted by lawmakers in seven states: Arkansas, Idaho, Kentucky, North Dakota, Oklahoma, South Dakota, and Utah. A similar law in Kansas was vetoed last month.

The bill would also require any facility where an induced abortion is performed to report additional information in its required annual report to the state department of health services, including the pregnant person’s reason for seeking an induced abortion. Current state law requires the state to publish an annual demographic summary of the reported information without revealing the identity of a patient, provider, or facility. The bill would eliminate the anonymity of the facility in which the abortion was performed.

That same day, in another 62-35 vote, Republicans passed AB 182, which would prohibit someone from performing an abortion if they know the patient is seeking the abortion due to the sex, race, color, national origin, or ancestry of the fetus, or because the fetus has or may have Down syndrome or any other disability. The bill would require the state Medical Examining Board to investigate any allegation that a physician has violated the prohibitions and provide civil penalties for providers found to be in violation.

Finally, lawmakers in the state house passed AB 183, which would prohibit the state department of health services from certifying, and require it to decertify, the following entities as providers in the state’s Medical Assistance program: any abortion provider or affiliate of an abortion provider that has ever applied for federal family planning funds as a nonprofit private entity. The measure includes an exception for hospitals that perform abortion care when necessary to preserve the health or life of the pregnant person, or when the pregnancy is a result of sexual assault or incest and has been reported to law enforcement.

All measures are now pending in the state senate committee on senate organization.

Correction: An earlier version of this story said state Reps. David Bowen (D-Milwaukee) and Jonathan Brostoff (D-Milwaukee) joined Republicans to pass AB 183 in Wisconsin.

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