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.

Cases: 503322

Reported Deaths: 10057
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34400541
DeSoto32318411
Hinds32074631
Jackson24551386
Rankin22103391
Lee15657235
Madison14662281
Jones13894243
Forrest13506253
Lauderdale12037318
Lowndes11091192
Lamar10531138
Pearl River9557238
Lafayette8581140
Hancock7751130
Washington7458161
Oktibbeha7152133
Monroe6796178
Warren6752176
Pontotoc6736104
Neshoba6656206
Panola6572131
Marshall6494135
Bolivar6331150
Union607794
Pike5849154
Alcorn5691102
Lincoln5468135
George502979
Scott474198
Tippah472481
Prentiss471582
Leflore4676144
Itawamba4651105
Tate4632111
Adams4617120
Copiah450092
Simpson4458116
Yazoo445388
Wayne440772
Covington429894
Sunflower4246105
Marion4236108
Coahoma4178108
Leake409888
Newton383179
Grenada3731108
Tishomingo361592
Stone360664
Jasper336565
Attala335290
Winston315391
Clay309077
Chickasaw302367
Clarke295894
Calhoun279947
Holmes268788
Smith266550
Yalobusha237247
Tallahatchie228752
Greene220649
Walthall219364
Lawrence213640
Perry206456
Amite206056
Webster203446
Noxubee186940
Montgomery179757
Jefferson Davis172243
Carroll169639
Tunica160139
Benton149439
Kemper142141
Choctaw134627
Claiborne132838
Humphreys129738
Franklin120728
Quitman106828
Wilkinson105139
Jefferson95934
Sharkey64220
Issaquena1937
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 821255

Reported Deaths: 15424
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1149051930
Mobile726651340
Madison52400699
Shelby37685350
Baldwin37285552
Tuscaloosa35147613
Montgomery34130740
Lee23556246
Calhoun22255490
Morgan21037378
Etowah19844500
Marshall18390304
Houston17406412
St. Clair16091339
Cullman15493293
Limestone15402199
Elmore15292286
Lauderdale14366295
Talladega13870283
DeKalb12670261
Walker11255370
Blount10227176
Autauga10061148
Jackson9909185
Coffee9215191
Dale8912186
Colbert8907201
Tallapoosa7103198
Escambia6782134
Covington6724183
Chilton6658162
Russell637659
Franklin5992105
Chambers5615142
Marion5016127
Dallas5013202
Pike4799106
Clarke477284
Geneva4577127
Winston4538103
Lawrence4352117
Bibb425686
Barbour358376
Marengo338390
Monroe332064
Randolph330264
Butler328596
Pickens317384
Henry313166
Hale311988
Cherokee303260
Fayette294580
Washington251651
Cleburne247960
Clay245568
Crenshaw245475
Macon235563
Lamar225747
Conecuh186654
Coosa180940
Lowndes175764
Wilcox169139
Bullock151844
Perry139240
Sumter133338
Greene126744
Choctaw88527
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