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Abortion rights roundup: The news impacting reproductive rights around the country

While Republican candidates waffle over a federal abortion ban, hundreds of doctors stand behind an Indiana OB-GYN punished for speaking publicly about abortion care she provided to a 10-year-old.

By Rebekah Sager - June 09, 2023
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Abortion rights activists outside Supreme Court
Abortion rights activists rally outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, D.C. on April 15, 2023. Hundreds gathered on Capitol Hill as part of a nationwide day of protest, organized by women's rights advocates and health care providers, opposing legal efforts to restrict the abortion drug mifepristone. (Photo by Alejandro Alvarez/Sipa USA)(Sipa via AP Images)

This series is a weekly roundup of abortion news, covering various statewide laws and bans, those who stand up to them, and the ongoing push by anti-abortion conservatives to restrict abortion care and erase bodily autonomy. 

Republican candidates vacillate on a federal abortion ban

Several 2024 Republican presidential candidates are avoiding explaining their position when it comes to a federal abortion ban. Although most have made it crystal clear they support statewide bans at various stages of pregnancy, committing to support a federal ban has left many of them waffling.

Former President Donald Trump bragged during a CNN town hall about being “very honored” to have played a role in overturning Roe v. Wade but dodged the question of a federal ban. “What I’ll do is negotiate so that people are happy,” he said when asked by Kaitlan Collins. “I want to do what’s right. And we’re looking, and we want to do what’s right for everybody.”

Ironically, in April, the New York Times reported that Trump’s 2021 financial records showed the former president was holding between $250,001 And $500,000 in Pfizer stock. Pfizer is the manufacturer of Cytotec, a brand of misoprostol, an abortion pill that can be used on its own or in conjunction with mifepristone to terminate a pregnancy. Over half of patients who obtain abortions in the U.S. use medication abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

In her own recent CNN town hall, Nikki Haley, the former South Carolina governor, said there was room for a “federal role” on abortion restrictions, but declined to answer directly about a federal ban on the procedure. “Our goal should always be, how do we save as many babies as we can,” she said, “and support as many mothers in that process as we do it.”

In April, South Carolina Republican Sen. Tim Scott, also a 2024 candidate, said he strongly supports a federal abortion law after 20 weeks of pregnancy, telling NBC News that he “would literally sign the most conservative, pro-life legislation that they can get through Congress,” the day after he avoided an answer to a similar question. 

Although Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a six-week abortion ban into law on April 13, he has not talked much about the statewide ban or a federal ban while out on the campaign trail. At a gala in May, DeSantis said he “was happy to be able to sign” the ban into law in Florida, then added, “But we also understand that there’s much more to do.”

Former Vice President Mike Pence officially announced his 2024 presidential candidacy Wednesday, but failed to mention his mission to ban all abortions nationally.

“Well, I think defending the unborn first and foremost is more important than politics. I really believe it’s the calling of our time,” Pence told host Chris Stirewalt on a broadcast of The Hill on NewsNation on April 24.

On April 23, Pence told CBS News correspondent Robert Costa during an appearance on “Face the Nation” that he’d like to see mifepristone “off the market to protect the unborn.”

The issue of abortion slapped the GOP in the face during the 2022 midterm elections, with a predicted “red wave” failing to materialize, as House Republicans came up short in large part because of the issue of abortion — something the GOP will surely have to contend with in 2024.

Hundreds of doctors rally for a colleague

On June 3, 500 Indiana doctors came to the defense of OB-GYN Dr. Caitlin Bernard, who spoke out publicly last year about providing an abortion to a 10-year-old rape survivor, after the Indiana medical licensing board reprimanded her with a $3,000 fine.

Indiana Republican Attorney General Todd Rokita filed a complaint against Bernard demanding that the state’s medical licensing board take up the case against her.

The “Good Trouble Coalition,” the group of physicians defending Bernard, signed an open letter to the medical board that was published on June 4 in the Indianapolis Star

Bernard’s employer, Indiana University Health, reviewed the case and found no violations of patient confidentiality.

In a public hearing following Bernard’s reprimand, Dr. Ram Yeleti, a cardiologist in Indianapolis, said: “I hate to say, I think this is completely political. … I think the medical board could have decided not to take this case.”

Abortion providers in Kansas fight back

On Monday, a group of abortion providers filed a lawsuit in Johnson County District Court against a number of Kansas state officials, challenging a slate of abortion restrictions in the state.

The suit objects to a provision in the Woman’s Right-to-Know Act that requires a 24-hour waiting period for patients seeking to obtain an abortion.

The suit additionally objects to a restriction in a new law — H.B. 2264, also known as the “Reversal Amendment,” which is set to take effect July 1, 2023 — that requires physicians to advise patients that medical abortion care can be “reversed,” a policy abortion rights advocates say is both misleading and potentially dangerous to patients.

In August 2022, voters in Kansas roundly rejected a ballot measure that would have removed the right to an abortion in the state.

The groups suing — Planned Parenthood Great Plains, Hodes and Nauser Women’s Health, and the Center for Reproductive Rights — are asking the court for “declaratory and injunctive relief” from the restrictions on the grounds that “the Kansas Constitution Bill of Rights guarantees the fundamental ‘right of personal autonomy—which includes the ability to control one’s own body … and to exercise self-determination,’ and, because Kansans do not relinquish their rights upon becoming pregnant, this includes protection for the right to abortion.”

Alexis McGill Johnson, the president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Federation of America, said in a press release: “Make no mistake: these laws are designed to shame and stigmatize people as part of a broader effort to make abortion inaccessible. … We will not stand by as Kansans’ rights continue to be undermined — especially after they made their support for abortion access resoundingly clear last summer.”

Republicans slap back at one of their own

South Carolina state Sen. Katrina Shealy was censured Monday by her own party after she, along with four other female senators, dubbed the “sister senators,” took a stand against a six-week abortion ban in the state.

In May, Shealy and two other Republicans, along with a Democrat and an independent, blocked a bill that would have outlawed all abortions in the state from the moment of conception. But just weeks later, the state Senate voted to approve House changes to the law, making it a six-week ban, and on May 26, South Carolina Gov. Henry McMaster signed the bill into law.

Currently, the six-week ban has been put on hold by a state court judge after Planned Parenthood South Atlantic, the Greenville Women’s Clinic, and two physicians filed a suit to block it.

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.


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