Alabama on Tuesday became one of several US states this year to pass new legislation restricting abortion rights.
The bill, if signed into law, will be the most restrictive abortion legislation in the United States, banning the procedure in nearly all circumstances, including rape and incest. The only exception to the ban are cases in which a woman’s health is at serious risk.
Other restrictive bans have been passed in Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi, North Dakota and Ohio, among other states. Most have been challenged in the courts.
Additionally, bills that seek to restrict abortion have been introduced in dozens of states across the US, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive health research and policy organisation. In the first quarter of 2019, at least 28 state legislatures introduced some kind of abortion ban. The Guttmacher Institute noted in April that “although the overall number of abortion restrictions introduced so far in 2019 was essentially the same as in the first quarter of 2018, the extreme nature of this year’s bills is unprecedented.”
Anti-abortion rights groups hope to get the Supreme Court to revisit the 1973 Roe v Wade ruling, which legalised abortion.
Abortion rights organisations say the legislation is an attack on women’s health.
Which states have recently passed abortion bans?
If signed, Alabama’s law would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for an abortion provider. The only exception would be when a woman’s health is at serious risk.
The law would take effect six months after being signed by the governor, but is certain to face a legal challenge from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other groups which have vowed to sue.
In March, Arkansas’s Republican governor signed into law a measure banning most abortions 18 weeks into a woman’s pregnancy. The ban includes exceptions for rape, incest and medical emergencies. The state had already banned abortions 20 weeks into pregnancy. The ban is expected to go into effect this month. The ACLU has vowed to challenge it in the courts.
The state has also passed a “trigger” law, which would automatically trigger an abortion ban if Roe v Wade is overturned.
Earlier this month, Georgia’s governor Brian Kemp signed a “heartbeat bill”, that bans abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can be as early as six weeks, before many women know they’re pregnant.
The measure makes exceptions in the case of rape and incest – if the woman files a police report first – and to save the life of the mother. It also would allow for abortions when a fetus is determined not to be viable because of serious medical issues.
The ACLU plans to challenge the measure in court.
After the ACLU filed a lawsuit, a judge in Kentucky blocked enforcement of the state’s heartbeat law, which seeks to ban abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat.
A 2018 abortion law was struck down by a federal judge earlier this month. It would have halted a common second-trimester procedure to end pregnancies. The state’s governor has vowed to appeal.
Kentucky has also recently passed a trigger bill.
If a new Mississippi law survives a court challenge, it will be nearly impossible for most pregnant women to get an abortion there.
Like Kentucky’s legislation, the Mississippi law seeks to ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected. It is set to take effect on July 1, but the state’s only abortion clinic and the Center for Reproductive Rights have asked a federal judge to block it.
Mississippi already mandates a 24-hour wait between an in-person consultation, meaning women must make at least two trips to her clinic, often travelling long distances.
Last month, North Dakota’s governor signed legislation that makes it a crime for a doctor performing a second-trimester abortion to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb.
Except in cases of an emergency, doctors performing the procedure would be charged with a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. The measure says the woman having the abortion would not face charges.
The bill would come into effect if a federal appeals court or the US Supreme Court allows its enforcement.
This year, the governor has also signed a measure that requires abortion providers to tell women undergoing drug-induced abortions that it’s possible they could still have a live birth if they change their mind. The “reversal” method is controversial and has not been medically accepted. Other states have also passed similar measures.
After years of debate, Ohio’s governor also signed a heartbeat bill this year, banning abortions once a fetal heartbeat is detected.
The ACLU has vowed to challenge the measure in the courts.
Other ‘trigger’ laws
In addition to Kentucky and Arkansas passing trigger laws this year, Tennessee did as well. Louisiana, Mississippi, North Dakota and South Dakota already had similar trigger laws on the books.
What’s expected in other states?
Louisiana, South Carolina and Missouri are halfway towards passing a fetal heartbeat law.
Other states, including Maryland, Minnesota, Texas and West Virginia are also considering abortion restrictions.
Why now? Will the challenges make it to the Supreme Court?
Politicians behind the bans across the country have made it clear their goal is to prompt court challenges in hopes of ultimately overturning the 1973 Roe v Wade decision legalising abortion.
But activists and legal experts on both sides of the debate agree that getting a Supreme Court decision on such a defining case is unlikely any time soon.
The bans may face difficulties just reaching the high court, given that Roe established a clear right to an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy.
“The lower courts are going to find these laws unconstitutional because the Supreme Court requires that outcome,” Hillary Schneller, a lawyer with the Center for Reproductive Rights, told the Associated Press.
However, some federal appeals courts around the country, such as the 5th Circuit, which covers Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, are viewed as having grown more conservative with the addition of Trump appointees.
If even one circuit breaks with Roe v Wade and upholds a heartbeat ban, that could be enough for the Supreme Court to take up the issue, said Justin Dyer, a political science professor at the University of Missouri.
Alternatively, the high court could agree to hear any of several less sweeping anti-abortion rights measures. Some would tighten restrictions on clinics; others seek to ban certain categories of abortions.
What might happen at the Supreme Court is far from clear. Legal experts are unsure what effect the Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh might have, or where Chief Justice John Roberts stands in regard to Roe.
Are there more abortions now?
The renewed challenges come as the number of abortions performed in the US has steadily declined since reaching a peak of 1.6 million in 1990.
The latest 50-state tally was 926,000 in 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.