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State Abortion Restrictions Still a Priority for Republican Lawmakers

4 years ago
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Republican state legislators around the country, holding the majority in most cases, have aggressively moved in the past few weeks to enact new abortion restrictions. If any of these measures pass into law, and many are predicted to do so, they will likely generate a new wave of litigation over the contours of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 abortion decision. It has been five years now since the Supreme Court decided a major abortion case, and none are on its docket for the rest of this term.

In Iowa on Monday, for example, a panel of the state House Human Resources Committee approved language that would protect human life at conception. The measure would criminalize doctors who perform abortions, according to its sponsors, and would preclude any review by the Iowa Supreme Court. Testifying in support of this bill, one woman who says she was forced to have an abortion she regretted told lawmakers: "I felt I was no better than Timothy McVeigh. I killed someone." McVeigh was executed in June 2001 for his role in the Oklahoma City bombing which killed 168 people at the Alfred P. Murrah federal building on April 19, 1995.

In South Dakota, meanwhile, a routine measure that seeks to refine the definition of "justifiable homicide" was expanded last week by Republican legislators to include not just protections for self-defense but also for the defense of an "unborn child." Abortion-rights advocates immediately described the pending statute as "an invitation to murder abortion providers" (although the bill's sponsor told The Washington Post it would not legalize the killing of such providers). The measure passed out of committee on a party-line vote and is now on its way to the state House of Representatives, which is also in Republican hands.

In Ohio, as the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported Tuesday, "in a span of eight days, Ohio Statehouse Republicans will have introduced five separate bills aimed at restricting access to abortions, including a controversial measure banning the procedure as early as six weeks after conception." According to the report, Republican officials were scheduled Tuesday to reveal a proposed law that would outlaw abortions from the moment a fetus' heartbeat is detected. "I think any time is the right time to address abortion," Ohio House Speaker Bill Batcheldor told the paper. Republicans in Ohio hold power in both the state Senate and state House, as well as the Supreme Court and governor's mansion.

In Arizona, the legislative fight over abortion rights this session will center on the regulation of the so-called abortion pill. But last week, a Republican legislator there introduced a bill that would seek to ban abortions if they were based upon the race or sex of a fetus. In Florida, an ordained minister, who is also a Republican lawmaker, has introduced the Florida For Life Act, which aside from seeking to outlaw most abortions also contains the following striking language:

"The Legislature finds that the justices of the United States Supreme Court are not qualified to determine, establish, or define the moral values of the people of the United States and specifically for the people of Florida. The Supreme Court's removal of moral and political questions from the political power of the people to determine, under color of constitutional adjudication, is a violation of the peoples' right to self-government guaranteed under the Constitution of the United States."

Lawmakers in Kansas (parental consent) and Colorado (fetal homicide) are currently wrestling with abortion issues. Republican lawmakers in Montana, Oklahoma, Florida and Texas have introduced "personhood" bills, and similar legislation in Iowa and North Dakota is well on its way to becoming state law. These laws define "personhood" at its earliest moments -- earlier than the current test set forth by the Supreme Court -- and would impact abortion rights in any number of ways.

Upon passage, it is likely that each of the above measures would be challenged, probably in federal court, by abortion-rights advocates who claim the proposed restrictions upon women and doctors go far beyond existing legal precedent. The United States Supreme Court, which is unlikely to heed Florida's admonition to stay out of the debate, has not heard an abortion case since 2006.

Recent national polls did not place abortion on the list of priorities offered by Americans in the past few months; jobs, health care, the budget deficit, the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and immigration generally led those lists.
Filed Under: Republicans, Abortion, Law

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