State legislatures across the country are on pace this year to approve an “unprecedented” number of bills placing limits on abortion, and that’s not spin from the pro-life movement.
The pro-choice Guttmacher Institute warned in a report that 61 bills restricting abortion access or services have passed in 13 states, putting the 2021 legislative session on track to surpass the record set in 2011. In many cases, the new measures are almost direct invitations to the Supreme Court to take up the constitutionality of the laws and reopen the debate on the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.
“To put those figures in context, by this time in 2011 — the year previously regarded as the most hostile to abortion rights since Roe was decided — 42 restrictions had been enacted, including six bans,” said the institute, a research and policy organization that began as a Planned Parenthood affiliate.
National Democrats have trained much of their early fire since President Biden took office on bills being passed or debated in red states regarding voting rights, but the Guttmacher numbers suggest an equally big legal battle is brewing over abortion rights and the limits states can place on the procedure.
The report said that since January, 536 bills restricting abortion have been introduced in 46 states, including 146 bills banning abortions after a certain point in pregnancy, such as “heartbeat” bills prohibiting the procedure after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, typically at six weeks of gestation. The report called the total “unprecedented.”
“If this trend continues, 2021 will end up as the most damaging antiabortion state legislative session in a decade — and perhaps ever,” it said.
For pro-life groups, the takeaway was considerably more positive. Advocates said the historic legislative gusher shows that their message is making inroads with the American public.
“The unprecedented surge of pro-life activity in state legislatures this year proves life is winning in America,” said Susan B. Anthony List President Marjorie Dannenfelser. “Across the nation, state lawmakers acting on the will of the people are taking bold steps to humanize our laws and challenge the radical status quo imposed by Roe v. Wade.”
Another sign of the movement’s clout is the growing number of localities declaring themselves “sanctuary cites for the unborn.” The most recent is Lubbock, Texas.
In a Saturday vote, Lubbock voters approved by 62% to 38% an ordinance outlawing abortion within its city limits. It is the largest of the 26 cities — 24 in Texas and two in Nebraska — to declare themselves pro-life sanctuaries.
Also historic: Lubbock, with a population of 264,000, is the first such sanctuary city that also is home to a clinic, operated by Planned Parenthood of Greater Texas, that performs abortions.
Planned Parenthood said in a statement that it is “carefully reviewing the impact of the ordinance, and will make decisions soon regarding the availability of abortion services in Lubbock.” The measure is expected to take effect June 1.
Mark Lee Dickson, director of Right to Life of East Texas and founder of the sanctuary cities initiative, urged Planned Parenthood to respect the will of the voters and shut down abortion services at its Lubbock clinic.
“We congratulate everyone who worked so hard to pass this ordinance and produce such a strong turnout for this historic election,” he said. “Planned Parenthood and its supporters also worked hard to get their supporters to the polls, and we congratulate them on their efforts. Now that the voters have spoken, we expect Planned Parenthood to respect the outcome of this election and cease providing abortions at its Lubbock clinic.”
‘Shock and awe’
Almost all the bills passed were in states that already have strong pro-life laws on the books, widening the divide between red and blue states.
“It is no accident that 89% of the 61 restrictions enacted this year were in states already considered to be hostile or very hostile toward abortion rights,” said the Guttmacher authors. “The 2021 abortion restrictions largely build on earlier ones, as each additional restriction increases patients’ logistical, financial and legal barriers to care, especially where entire clusters of states are hostile to abortion.”
The legislative tally includes “heartbeat” bills signed by Republican governors in Idaho and Oklahoma, a bill signed in Montana that restricts access to abortion after 20 weeks of gestation, and a bill in Arizona banning abortion for nonlethal genetic abnormalities.
“There’s immeasurable value in every single life, regardless of genetic makeup,” Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said after signing the bill last week. “We will continue to prioritize protecting life in our pre-born children, and this legislation goes a long way in protecting real human lives.”
Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb, a Republican, last month signed an “abortion reversal” bill requiring medical providers to inform patients of medication to reverse the effect of abortion pills. Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte, a Republican, signed bills offering pre-abortion ultrasounds and requiring in-person visits to obtain abortion pills.
Hudson’s Law, also known as the Down Syndrome Information Act, won wide bipartisan support. It requires health care practitioners to provide up-to-date information to pregnant women who receive positive test results for chromosomal conditions.
Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves, a Republican, signed the bill in March after it passed overwhelmingly in both legislative chambers. The legislation was named after 2-year-old Hudson Hartman, who has Down syndrome.
Democrats in Congress have blocked legislation for years to mandate medical care for infants born alive after failed abortions, but Kentucky Gov. Andy Beshear, a Democrat, allowed such legislation to become law without his signature in January.
There was drama in New Hampshire when House Democrats walked out in February rather than vote on Republican born-alive and late-term abortion bills. Republicans flipped both houses of the state legislature in November elections.
Perhaps the most sweeping bill is the near-total ban signed in March by Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, who acknowledged the measure was crafted as a “direct challenge” to the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion nationwide.
“As our earlier analysis predicted, state policymakers are testing the limits of what the new U.S. Supreme Court majority might allow and laying the groundwork for a day when federal constitutional protections for abortion are weakened or eliminated entirely,” said Guttmacher.
The institute warned that the “shock and awe campaign against abortion rights” has largely flown under the radar as voting and transgender bills grab most of the media attention.
“The current barrage of coordinated attacks must be taken seriously as the unprecedented threat to reproductive health care and rights that it is,” said the report. “The year 2021 is well on its way to being a defining one in abortion rights history.”
Ms. Dannenfelser contrasted the state pro-life push with President Biden’s staunch pro-choice policies, such as the administration’s decision to lift the “Mexico City policy” banning foreign aid for organizations that offer or promote abortions.
“There could not be a stronger rebuke to the Biden-Harris administration, whose pro-abortion agenda is deeply unpopular with Americans of all stripes,” said Ms. Dannenfelser. “The states are sending an unmistakable message to pro-abortion Democrats nationwide, and to the Supreme Court, that the pro-life movement will never rest until unborn children and their mothers are protected in the law.”