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Conservative lawmakers have pushed 384 anti-abortion restrictions this year — so far

It’s only March.

By Lisa Needham - March 04, 2021
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South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster

Conservative legislators are introducing anti-abortion bills at an alarming rate. The Guttmacher Institute, an advocacy group that tracks legislation related to reproductive rights, released a report on Tuesday revealing that 43 states have introduced a total of 384 anti-abortion provisions thus far in 2021  — and it’s only the first week of March.

The group also said 2021 may end up being a record-breaking year for abortion restriction, as it’s already resembling 2011, the year with the most restrictions passed since the right to an abortion was solidified by Roe v. Wade in 1973.

In many cases, should the laws pass, they’ll likely be challenged in the courts, but they would ultimately end up at a Supreme Court with a reliably anti-choice majority. 

Among the hundreds of new restrictions being pushed, over 60 anti-abortion bills have been introduced or passed, according to Kristin Ford, the national communications director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. That total doesn’t include the 28 bills introduced in Congress so far. 

This year has seen some especially threatening bills, such as an Arizona legislator’s proposal for a “homicide by abortion” law. Republican state Rep. Walt Blackman has authored a bill that would redefine “person” to include a fetus “at any stage of development.” Both people who have abortions and people who provide abortions could be prosecuted for homicide under the proposed law. Worse, the way the bill is written, people could be charged for any degree of homicide, including first-degree murder. 

Blackman’s Arizona bill also contains a provision that it doesn’t matter what federal laws and court decisions might say. Blackman declared that Roe v. Wade is just an opinion and the Supreme Court must acknowledge Arizona’s sovereignty. 

Conservative Mississippi legislators have also moved forward with extreme proposals. Last year, the state pushed a “reason ban,” where doctors could be imprisoned for a felony if they “intentionally or knowingly” performed an abortion “because of the actual or presumed race or sex of the unborn human being or because of the presence or presumed presence of a genetic abnormality.” This year, legislators upped the ante, introducing a bill that would charge both women who have abortions and abortion providers with murder

Besides being especially threatening, many of these bills are especially repetitive. At least five states — Montana, Florida, Hawaii, New Jersey, and Oregon — have seen the introduction of so-called “pain-capable” bills so far in 2021. 

Pain-capable bills rest on the discredited notion that fetuses feel pain after a specific time, often 20 weeks. Experts such as the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists have said that fetuses cannot feel pain until after viability, usually after 24 weeks. These proposed laws flout science but have been a favorite of anti-choice activists at both the state and federal levels. 

Though the first two months of this year have seen a serious uptick in abortion-related bills, it simply continues a trend of acceleration that began in 2017. In the past three years, states enacted over 250 laws relating to abortion, and 88% of those were about restricting abortion. Of those laws, 119 came from just seven states: Arkansas, Indiana, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, and Utah.

This acceleration is likely, at least in part, due to the fact that Donald Trump, who took office in 2017, made being anti-abortion a centerpiece of his administration. President Joe Biden’s opinions radically differ from that of Trump, and he’s working to unwind some of those policies. 

However, the one thing Biden can’t unwind is the solidly anti-abortion Supreme Court Trump was able to create. Anti-choice activists know that, and that’s one reason for the scattershot approach—a hope that multiple laws will be challenged and make their way to an anti-Roe Supreme Court. As Eric Scheidler, executive director of the Pro-Life Action League put it, “I think we’re more likely to see this court put more restrictions on abortion. I think five years from now, we’ll realize that Roe v. Wade was slowly overturned without it ever making a big headline.”

As bill after bill gets sent to GOP-dominated state legislatures, they will inevitably be challenged in court by pro-choice groups who want to assure widespread access to abortion. But if they make their way all the way to the Supreme Court, the result might be just the opposite.


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