Legislative low-lights: Abortion restrictions sweep through GOP-held legislatures

Here is a look at the anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through state legislatures.

Image Credit: The Daily Beast

Rewire.News tracks anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through state legislatures. Here’s an overview of the bills we’re watching.

Arkansas became the fifth state to have a “trigger law” that would ban abortion if Roe v. Wade fallsabortion restrictions advanced across multiple states, and Republican lawmakers in Texas are still obsessed with ending marriage equality.


Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson (R) last Tuesday signed SB 149, which would end legal abortion statewide if Roe v. Wade is overturned. Except in cases of medical emergency, the “Human Life Protection Act” would make it a felony – punishable by up to ten years in prison – to perform or attempt to perform an abortion. The GOP-backed law does not include any exceptions for rape or incest. The move makes Arkansas the fifth state (after Louisiana, Mississippi, South Dakota, and North Dakota) to have a “trigger law” that would re-criminalize abortion, should conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court strike down Roe v. Wade. Similar measures are being considered by Republicans in Kentucky and Tennessee. Kentucky’s measure has already passed the state house.

That same day, the house public health, welfare, and labor committee approved a measure that would ban most abortions 18 weeks into a pregnancy. Except in cases of medical emergency, the “Cherish Act” would make it a felony, punishable by up to six years in prison, to perform an abortion if a fetus has reached 18 weeks’ gestational age. Current state law prohibits abortion at 20 weeks’ gestation. The measure now heads to the state house for debate.

In a 71-13 vote, the Arkansas House of Representatives passed HB 1399, which would prohibit state funds from being used to buy or receive gametes or human embryos if it’s known that they would ultimately be destroyed. Certain types of research or procedures would be exempt from the funding ban, including in vitro fertilization and the administration of fertility-enhancing drugs. The “Prohibition of Public Funding of Human Cloning and Destructive Embryo Research Act” is now pending in the state senate public health, welfare, and labor committee.


Republican lawmakers on Friday introduced a measure that would require abortion providers to inform their patients that it may be possible to “reverse” the effects of a medication abortion. Four states (Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah) currently require physicians to provide similar information, which has been debunked by the medical community. Georgia is the sixth state this year (after Kansas, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota, and Oklahoma) to consider requiring physicians to promote the unproven treatment.


Indiana’s GOP-held house on Thursday passed HB 1211, a measure that would would make it a felony to perform a “dismemberment abortion” unless it’s necessary to prevent serious health risks to the pregnant person or to save their life. The measure targets dilation and evacuation (D and E) bans – the most common method of performing second-trimester abortions. The bill now heads to the state senate for consideration. The procedure is prohibited in Mississippi and West Virginia, but similar bans have been blocked by courts in seven states. Ohio was the latest state to pass a D and E ban in December. That law is being challenged in court.

State senate lawmakers last week passed SB 201, which would allow nurses, physician assistants, and pharmacists to refuse to participate in an abortion – or prescribe abortion-inducing drugs – if doing so would be contrary to any religious or moral belief. The measure was amended in committee and passed the full state senate by a 39-1 vote.


Lawmakers from both chambers last week introduced measures to ban abortion after 20 weeks. Except in cases of medical emergency, HF 1312/SF 1609 would prohibit physicians from performing or inducing an abortion without first determining the probable gestational age of the fetus. It would be a felony to perform an abortion once a fetus has been determined to be at 20 weeks into pregnancy. The measures are based on copycat legislation drafted by the National Right to Life Committee (NLRC). Seventeen states ban abortion at about 20 weeks post-fertilization, according to Guttmacher.


The state house advanced a couple anti-abortion measures last week. A house panel approved HB 339/HB 680 – which would ban abortion after 20 weeks unless it’s necessary to prevent a serious health risk to the pregnant patient. A separate panel – the house administrative oversight committee – approved HB 126, which would prohibit the performance of an abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. A fetal heartbeat can be detected as early as six weeks into a pregnancy, well before many people realize they are pregnant. Advocates refer to so-called heartbeat bans as total abortion bans. Lawmakers in 13 states this year have introduced “heartbeat” bans.

The measures now head to the full state house for consideration.


Republicans are once again trying to achieve an “abortion-free society,” by introducing legislation to develop and spread informational material trumpeting the “humanity of the unborn child.” HB 90 would require the state health department to develop and distribute materials about pregnancy and abortion through public service announcements. The materials would need to “clearly and consistently state that abortion kills a living human being.” The bill is nearly identical to HB 619 – which failed to pass in 2018 – and to Oklahoma’s “Humanity of the Unborn Child Act,” which became law in 2016.

South Dakota

In an 11-2 vote, the house state affairs committee on Friday approved HB 1177, which would make it a felony for a physician or qualified technician to fail to perform an obstetric ultrasound on a pregnant person prior to an abortion, unless there is a medical emergency. The physician would need to provide a verbal explanation of the images and display them so the patient can view them. The patient may decline to view the images.

On Thursday, a house committee advanced a measure that would prevent transgender students from playing on high school sports teams consistent with their gender identity. HB 1225 would override statewide policy allowing participation for all students regardless of their gender identity or expression. While the state house health and human services committee voted to advance the bill without a recommendation, the bill failed Monday in a full house vote.


Republican lawmakers in Texas still haven’t given up in their fight against same-sex marriage. State Sen. Brian Birdwell (R-Granbury) and state Rep. Dan Flynn (R-Van) introduced HB 2109 and SB 1009, respectively, which would prohibit anyone authorized to conduct a marriage ceremony from being required to perform the ceremony if doing so would violate their “sincerely held beliefs.” The First Amendment already protects clergy members from being required to perform certain marriages, but this measure would also allow judges to refuse to perform same-sex marriages.

On Friday, state Sen. Bob Hall (R-Edgewood) introduced a measure that would require a minor who has obtained judicial bypass to obtain an abortion without parental consent to receive verbal explanations of sonogram images prior to an abortion. That same day, Republican lawmakers introduced SB 1103, which would prohibit certain selective abortions and require perinatal palliative care information for patients carrying a fetus with a life-threatening disability. The measure would prohibit abortion once a fetus is viable unless it’s necessary to save the pregnant person’s life.


State lawmakers last week advanced a measure to ban abortion at 18 weeks. HB 136 – sponsored by state Rep. Cheryl Acton (R-West Jordan) – passed out of the house judiciary committee last Wednesday by a 7 to 5 vote. Originally introduced as a 15-week ban, Acton modified the measure to prohibit abortion at 18 weeks and included an exception for cases where a fetus has a severe brain abnormality.

The abortion restriction measure is now in the state house for debate. If it were to pass, it would almost certainly face a lawsuit.

On Friday, the state senate business and labor committee approved the “Down Syndrome Nondiscrimination Abortion Act.” The measure – which passed the state house earlier this month – would prohibit an abortion if the pregnant person’s sole reason for seeking the abortion is because the fetus has or may have Down syndrome. Physicians would be required to provide patients with materials containing contact information for state and national nonprofit Down syndrome organizations that provide information and support services for parents. The bill is similar to a 2016 Indiana law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) that was blocked twice in federal courts and is pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

The measure now heads to the full state senate for a vote.


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