More ‘heartbeat’ abortion bans advancing in South, Midwest

MGN Online

If a new Mississippi law survives a court challenge, it will be nearly impossible for most pregnant women to get an abortion there.

Posted: May 11, 2019 7:26 PM
Updated: May 11, 2019 8:26 PM

If a new Mississippi law survives a court challenge, it will be nearly impossible for most pregnant women to get an abortion there.

Or, potentially, in neighboring Louisiana. Or Alabama. Or Georgia.

The Louisiana legislature is halfway toward passing a law — like the ones enacted in Mississippi and Georgia — that will ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, about six weeks into a pregnancy and before many women know they’re pregnant. Alabama is on the cusp of approving an even more restrictive bill.

State governments are on a course to virtually eliminate abortion access in large chunks of the Deep South and Midwest. Ohio and Kentucky also have passed heartbeat laws; Missouri’s Republican-controlled legislature is considering one.

Their hope is that a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court will approve, spelling the end of the constitutional right to abortion.

“For pro-life folks, these are huge victories,” said Sue Liebel, state director for the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group. “And I think they’re indicative of the momentum and excitement and the hope that’s happening with changes in the Supreme Court and having such a pro-life president.”

For abortion right supporters, meanwhile, the trend is ominous. Said Diane Derzis, owner of Mississippi’s sole abortion clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization: “I think it’s certainly more dire than it ever has been. They smell blood and that’s why they’re doing this.”

Already, Mississippi mandates a 24-hour wait between an in-person consultation. That means women must make at least two trips to her clinic, often traveling long distances.

Other states have passed similar, incremental laws restricting abortion in recent years, and aside from Mississippi, five states have just one clinic — Kentucky, Missouri, North and South Dakota, and West Virginia. But the latest efforts to bar the procedure represent the largest assault on abortion rights in decades.

Lawmakers sponsoring the bans have made it clear their goal is to spark court challenges in hopes of ultimately overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.

Those challenges have begun. Derzis’ attorneys are scheduled to go before a judge on May 21, seeking to prevent Mississippi’s heartbeat law from taking effect July 1.

A judge in Kentucky blocked enforcement of that state’s heartbeat ban after the American Civil Liberties Union filed suit on behalf of the clinic in Louisville.

Similar legal action is expected before bans can take effect in Ohio and Georgia, where Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signed the latest heartbeat bill into law Tuesday. Kemp said he welcomed the fight, vowing: “We will not back down.”

Georgia’s ban doesn’t take effect until Jan. 1. But the impact was immediate.

An abortion clinic operated by The Women’s Centers in Atlanta began receiving anxious calls from patients soon after Kemp signed the law. Many callers had plans to travel from outside the state for abortions. Georgia’s heartbeat ban would have a wider impact because the state has 17 abortion clinics — more than the combined total in the other four Southern states that have passed or are considering bans.

“On a typical day we will see people from North Carolina, Tennessee, Alabama, South Carolina — all over the region,” said Dr. Lisa Haddad, the Atlanta clinic’s medical director. “And my thought is we’re not going to see those people coming here because they assume it’s already illegal in Georgia.”

Dr. Ernest Marshall, co-founder of Kentucky’s last remaining abortion clinic in Louisville, said in an email that banning abortions before most women know they’re pregnant would “have a disproportionate impact on poor women and communities of color throughout the South.”

Advocates for abortion rights expect judges to halt enforcement of any new bans while lawsuits work their way through the courts. That could take years.

“These laws are blatantly unconstitutional,” said Elisabeth Smith, chief counsel for state policy and advocacy for the Center for Reproductive Rights, which also has filed suit over Mississippi’s ban. “But if they were allowed to go into force, they would have devastating consequences for the residents of all of these states.”

If heartbeat bans are upheld, many women who are poor and have limited means to travel would have few options other than to try to terminate their own pregnancies, Haddad said, possibly using abortion drugs purchased online.

Others would have to drive or fly across multiple states, said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

“People would go to Florida, people would continue to go to Memphis,” Nash said. “How many states do you have to cross before you can access abortion services? It exacerbates all the issues we’ve already seen around taking time off from work and having the money to travel.”

Proposed heartbeat bans failed to pass this year in several Republican-led states, including Texas. There, GOP lawmakers lost ground to Democrats in the 2018 elections, and some abortion foes were wary after courts struck down prior abortion restrictions in the state. Such efforts also fell short in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.

Alabama lawmakers postponed until next week a vote on a proposal that would make performing nearly all abortions a felony. The measure has passed the state House, and the Senate suspended debate Thursday amid a heated dispute over whether exemptions for rape and incest should be stripped from the bill.

“You can’t put a price on unborn life,” Eric Johnston, president of the Alabama Pro-Life Coalition, said Wednesday, as a legislative committee heard testimony on the state’s proposed ban. “What you have to do is protect the people that live in this state and that includes unborn children.”

But Jenna King-Shepherd told Alabama lawmakers she believed the abortion she had at age 17 allowed her to finish college. She said her father, a part-time Baptist preacher furious about her pregnancy, drove her to the abortion clinic because he trusted her to make the right choice.

“I’m not asking you to support access to abortion,” King-Shepherd said. “I’m only asking you to let women, their families, their physicians and their God make this decision on how they want to start their families in private and trust them to do that.”

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 16322

Reported Deaths: 782
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds106626
Lauderdale76068
Madison75727
Neshoba72244
Jones68632
Scott66212
Forrest59239
DeSoto5598
Leake45412
Rankin4538
Holmes44130
Copiah3254
Jackson30914
Attala30718
Yazoo2914
Newton2834
Lincoln27829
Leflore27336
Oktibbeha26714
Monroe26725
Harrison2657
Lamar2485
Lowndes2419
Wayne2353
Pearl River21231
Pike20511
Adams20216
Washington1947
Noxubee1936
Warren19110
Lee1857
Covington1772
Jasper1664
Bolivar16611
Clarke15519
Smith15311
Lafayette1504
Kemper14911
Chickasaw14014
Coahoma1284
Winston1221
Clay1184
Carroll11611
Marion1169
Claiborne1145
Lawrence1081
Simpson1040
Grenada1003
Yalobusha976
Sunflower933
Itawamba907
Hancock9012
Tate881
Union867
Montgomery861
Panola853
Marshall853
Wilkinson859
Jefferson Davis813
Tippah7611
Webster673
Calhoun674
Amite651
Walthall630
Humphreys607
Tunica563
Prentiss533
Perry513
Choctaw482
Pontotoc453
Jefferson421
Tishomingo350
Greene331
Stone320
Quitman310
Tallahatchie301
Franklin292
George281
Alcorn191
Benton140
Sharkey70
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 18554

Reported Deaths: 651
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Mobile2284118
Jefferson1884103
Montgomery182343
Tuscaloosa82216
Marshall7059
Franklin5788
Lee55834
Shelby52220
Tallapoosa43266
Butler41918
Walker3812
Elmore3729
Chambers35926
Madison3464
Morgan2981
Unassigned2972
Baldwin2929
Dallas2873
Etowah26212
Lowndes25912
DeKalb2573
Autauga2395
Coffee2391
Sumter2287
Houston2265
Bullock2156
Pike2080
Colbert1872
Hale1799
Russell1770
Barbour1771
Marengo1746
Lauderdale1692
Calhoun1653
Wilcox1547
Choctaw15310
Cullman1501
Clarke1492
St. Clair1311
Randolph1287
Marion12411
Dale1230
Pickens1215
Talladega1175
Limestone1080
Chilton1051
Greene954
Winston910
Macon874
Jackson833
Henry812
Covington811
Crenshaw783
Bibb761
Escambia753
Washington726
Blount631
Lawrence510
Monroe452
Geneva440
Perry420
Conecuh411
Coosa401
Cherokee383
Clay282
Lamar260
Fayette160
Cleburne151
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