Fetus Would Be Rape Evidence as Republicans Push Abortion Bills
When pregnancy results from rape or incest, destroying the evidence -- the fetus -- would become a felony in New Mexico. Women might need to wait six days before undergoing an abortion in South Dakota. And Mississippi would redefine the word “person” to apply to a fertilized egg.
Those proposals are among dozens of abortion-related bills that state lawmakers are set to consider in 2013. The November elections left Republicans in control of both legislative chambers in 26 states and with new majorities in Wisconsin, Arkansas and Alaska. That’s emboldened abortion opponents to continue the momentum of the past two years, when a record 135 restrictions on the procedure were passed.
“We actually have states competing with each other to be the most protective in the country,” said Dan McConchie, who oversees state lobbying efforts at Americans United for Life, a Washington-based anti-abortion group that helps lawmakers write bills. “No state has yet done all that’s possible to do.”
Lawmakers often look to other states to see what restrictions are most effective. In Mississippi, the state’s only clinic has yet to comply with a requirement passed last year that abortion doctors have hospital admitting privileges, and may shut because of it. A Tennessee facility blamed its closing on a similar law. Legislators in North Dakota, South Carolina and Alabama aim to follow.
Bans on abortion coverage in health-exchange insurance plans and on the procedure after 20 weeks are in effect in 20 and seven states, respectively, according to Guttmacher Institute, a New York-based reproductive-health research group. Expect their popularity to spread, McConchie said. At least nine states plan to take up one or the other this year.
All but 17 states bar public funding for abortion through Medicaid, except in limited circumstances. Republican Representative Matt Windschitl of Iowa is backing a bid to ban such funding for all abortions. Last fiscal year, 22 abortions cost the state about $20,000 combined, according to the Associated Press. Fifteen were for severe fatal anomalies such as separation of the brain from the fetus, two for rape and five to save the woman’s life.
“We try to mainstream new ideas quickly,” McConchie said.
In New Mexico, Republican Representative Cathrynn Brown introduced House Bill 206, which would have criminalized victims of rape and incest for tampering with evidence if they procured an abortion. Brown withdrew the bill amid a firestorm of protest, and filed a modified version clarifying that the impregnated woman wouldn’t be charged with a crime.
“Her ‘fix’ is nothing of the kind,” Matt Ross, a spokesman for the state’s Democrats, who control both legislative chambers, said in a statement. “The bill still makes it a crime to ‘facilitate’ an abortion for a woman who wants one, bottom line. That means doctors, nurses or anyone else who works at a health-care clinic where this is one of the services provided would still be guilty of a felony.”
Brown, through Jamie Dickerman, a spokeswoman for the New Mexico House Minority Office, declined multiple requests for clarification and an interview.
In South Dakota, 15 representatives and five senators introduced House Bill 1237 to extend to 72 hours the current 24- hour waiting period before a woman first meets with a physician and obtains an abortion. Yet, no Saturday, Sunday, federal or state holiday would count toward the calculation, extending to as long as six days the actual time a woman would have to wait.
“The idea of a waiting period was to set aside time to think about having the abortion,” said Elizabeth Nash, states issues manager at Guttmacher. “Women are unable to think on weekends and holidays?”
Lawmakers in nine states seek to pass laws that could outlaw most, if not all, abortions, in-vitro fertilization and some contraceptives. They would do so by declaring that life begins at conception in Mississippi -- where voters rejected doing so in in a referendum less than two years ago -- Oklahoma and South Carolina. In Kentucky and Wyoming, it would be by banning abortions after as early as six weeks, prior to the formation of many major organs and before many women realize they’re pregnant.
A push to ban abortions based on gender has been introduced this year in at least nine states, including Texas and Virginia. Representative Bette Grande’s version in North Dakota’s would also outlaw abortions based on genetic abnormalities, including those that are fatal.
McConchie’s prediction for another banner year of abortion restrictions is based on political developments he said may ease the advancement of anti-abortion legislation.
Democrats lost a governor supportive of abortion-rights in North Carolina and legislative control in Arkansas, Wisconsin and Alaska. Also, historical precedent shows more bills are enacted in nonelection years, which 2013 is in all but four states. Texas and North Dakota legislatures meet every other year and are doing so in 2013.
While reproductive health legislation will again spark battles in statehouses across the country, that doesn’t mean abortion foes will continue their recent success, said Jordan Goldberg, state advocacy counsel at the New York-based Center for Reproductive Rights, which fights abortion laws in court.
“Every year anti-choice legislators introduce waves of these bills,” she said. “Most don’t pass; all are bad ideas. Early in the session you can take a snapshot of what are the nuttiest, most harmful things out there, but you can’t make a prediction about what’s going to happen.”
Last year, when more than 500 abortion restrictions were introduced and 43 passed, no state moved to expand abortion rights.
New York’s Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo is trying to make 2013 different. His Reproductive Health Act would decriminalize abortions after 24 weeks when a woman’s health -- not just life, as the law currently stands -- is at risk.
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