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The good, the bad, and the ugly: Where abortion laws stand at the moment

Democratic governors are standing strong and adding protections, while Republicans are doubling down on restrictive bans.

By Rebekah Sager - April 18, 2023
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Michelle Lujan Grisham
New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham attends a news conference highlighting newly signed legislation to bolster the state's health care workforce and make medical care more accessible in Santa Fe, N.M., Friday, April 7, 2023. Gov. Lujan Grisham used her veto authority to scale back a tax relief package based on concerns it could undermine future spending on social programs while signing the annual spending plan in state history. (AP Photo/Morgan Lee)

From temporary stays on rulings that limit access to an abortion medication to bills that protect abortion procedures, lawmakers across the nation are grappling with a legal landscape that is changing at lightning speed.

As quickly as Democratic lawmakers can pass bills that enshrine in law the right to safe and legal abortions, Republican lawmakers are pushing for more restrictions and even talking about a federal abortion ban.

On Friday, Democratic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis signed a set of bills that protect access to abortion care as well as to gender-affirming medications and procedures. The legislation also makes the state a safe haven for abortion seekers traveling from restrictive bordering states.

During the law-signing ceremony, Democratic state Sen. Julie Gonzales said, “We see you and in Colorado, we’ve got your back.”

On the same day, during a closed-door ceremony, Florida Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that bans most abortions after six weeks. The new law adds an exemption of 15 weeks’ gestation in cases of rape or incest, adding to the existing exemption of 15 weeks when the health and life of a pregnant person is at risk.

“This ban would prevent four million Florida women of reproductive age from accessing abortion care after six weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant,” White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said in a statement issued after the April 13 vote by the Florida Legislature. “This ban would also impact the nearly 15 million women of reproductive age who live in abortion-banning states throughout the South, many of whom have previously relied on travel to Florida as an option to access care.”

On April 7, U.S. District Court Judge Matthew Kacsmaryk made an unprecedented decision to stay the Food and Drug Administration’s 23-year-old approval of the abortion drug mifepristone, which is used in over 50% of abortions in the U.S. Officials in Democratic-led states announced in response that they’d be building inventory of both mifepristone and the second medication used in abortions, misoprostol, to ensure that they remain accessible to patients.

On April 14, after the Department of Justice filed an emergency appeal of Kacsmaryk’s ruling, the U.S. Supreme Court temporarily delayed a ruling by a lower court that had stayed Kacsmaryk’s but had also limited access to the drug. The latest delay will last until 11:59 p.m. ET on April 19 to give the justices more time to review the case.

New Mexico Democratic Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March signed H.B. 7, the Reproductive and Gender-Affirming Health Care Freedom Act, a bill that prohibits laws restricting reproductive or gender-affirming care. Grisham said Sunday she’s afraid conservative lawmakers will attempt to put forth a federal national abortion ban.

Appearing on CBS’ Face the Nation, Grisham said, “It’s every social issue that you disagree with, is it stem cell research, is it fertility, drugs, whatever it is, in this context, if we’re going to use the federal courts as a way to bar and ban access, we are looking at a national abortion ban and more.”

Grisham told host Margaret Brennan that in light of the attacks on mifepristone, states will have to continue to stockpile the medicine.

South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott stumbled last Friday when asked a question about a federal abortion ban.

“I would simply say that the fact of the matter is, when you look at the issue of abortion, one of the challenges that we have, we continue to go to the most restrictive conversations without broadening the scope and taking a look at the fact that — I’m 100% pro-life,” Scott, who announced a 2024 run for the White House, told a Newsmax reporter:

I never walk away from that, but the truth of the matter is that when you look at the issues on abortion, I start with the various important conversation I had in a banking hearing where I was sitting in my office and listening to Janet Yellen, the secretary of the treasury, talk about increasing the labor force participation rate for African American women who are in poverty by having abortions. I think we’re just having the wrong conversation.

Scott was referring to Yellen’s statement during an annual review of the Financial Stability Oversight Council, in May 2022, when she said, “I believe that eliminating the right of women to make decisions about when and whether to have children would have very damaging effects on the economy and would set women back decades.”

At the time, Scott called her characterization harsh. Yellen responded: “Roe v. Wade and access to reproductive health care, including abortion, helped lead to increased labor force participation. … It enabled many women to finish school. That increased their earning potential. It allowed women to plan and balance their families and careers.”

On Tuesday, Vice President Kamala Harris heads to the University of Nevada in Reno to speak on a panel about the administration’s efforts to protect reproductive rights and the legal battle over mifepristone. The conversation will be moderated by Reno Mayor Hillary Schieve and actor Rosario Dawson.

Harris has kept the abortion issue front and center since the Supreme Court’s momentous Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling last June that overturned Roe v. Wade.

“The Fifth Circuit’s decision — just like the district court’s — second-guesses the agency’s medical experts… If this decision stands, no medication — from chemotherapy drugs, to asthma medicine, to blood pressure pills, to insulin — would be safe from attacks,” Harris said in response to the latest rulings last week. 

Democratic Maryland Gov. Wes Moore announced Sunday that his state too would begin stockpiling mifepristone.

Moore told ABC’s Jonathan Karl: “Maryland is going to be a state where we are going to protect reproductive health and reproductive rights. … We passed three bills that was focusing on things like increasing access, increasing privacy, and also making sure that when people come to Maryland they’re not going to be criminalized.”

ABC News reports that in November, Maryland residents will vote on a constitutional amendment that would ensure safe and legal abortion access.

As the New York Times reports, abortion is currently fully banned in 13 states.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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