Eying Supreme Court, abortion foes promote tough state bans

Gov. Phil Bryant signs heartbeat abortion bill.

Gov. Phil Bryant signed the fetal heartbeat bill into law in March.

Posted: Apr 10, 2019 10:31 AM

JACKSON, Miss. (AP) - Emboldened by the new conservative majority on the Supreme Court, anti-abortion lawmakers and activists in numerous states are pushing near-total bans on the procedure in a deliberate frontal attack on Roe v. Wade.

Mississippi and Kentucky have passed laws that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected — which means as early as six weeks, when many women don't even know they're pregnant. Georgia could join them if Republican Gov. Brian Kemp signs a measure that has been sent to him, and similar bills are pending in at least eight other states with anti-abortion GOP majorities in their legislatures.

RELATED: Gov. Phil Bryant signs one of the strictest abortion laws in the nation

Alabama may go further, with legislation introduced last week to criminalize abortion at any stage unless the mother's health is in jeopardy.

The chief sponsor of the Alabama bill, Rep. Terri Collins, acknowledged that the measure — like the heartbeat bills — is intended as a direct challenge to Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion nationwide.

"To me this is an issue the court simply got wrong years ago," said Collins, who hopes President Donald Trump's appointments of Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court lead to reconsideration of Roe.

Staci Fox, Atlanta-based CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast, said these bans are "blatantly unconstitutional and lawmakers know it — they just don't care." The goal, she said, is to "challenge access to safe, legal abortion nationally."

Activists and legal experts on both sides of the debate agree that getting a Supreme Court decision on such a defining case is unlikely any time soon.

The bans may face difficulties just reaching the high court, given that Roe established a clear right to an abortion during the first three months of pregnancy. Kentucky's heartbeat law has been blocked for now by a federal judge; abortion-rights lawyers are seeking a similar injunction in Mississippi before the law there takes effect July 1.

"The lower courts are going to find these laws unconstitutional, because the Supreme Court requires that outcome," said Hillary Schneller, an attorney with the Center for Reproductive Rights.

However, some federal appeals courts around the country, such as the 5th Circuit, which covers Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas, are viewed as having grown more conservative with the addition of Trump appointees.

If even one circuit breaks with Roe v. Wade and upholds a heartbeat ban, that could be enough for the Supreme Court to take up the issue, said Justin Dyer, a political science professor at the University of Missouri.

Alternatively, the high court could agree to hear any of several less sweeping anti-abortion measures. Some would tighten restrictions on clinics; others seek to ban certain categories of abortions.

What might happen at the Supreme Court is far from clear. Legal experts are unsure what effect the Trump appointees might have, or where Chief Justice John Roberts stands in regard to Roe.

Schneller said she is skeptical the reconfigured court will overturn or weaken Roe, as abortion foes are hoping: "Over 45 years, the court has had different compositions, and we've always gotten the same answer."

Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University of America, warned that it is impossible to predict what the court will do but said Kavanaugh's appointment "gives pro-lifers hope that legislation which offers more comprehensive protection to the unborn will receive a sympathetic hearing."

Some anti-abortion groups have declined to endorse the heartbeat bills, signaling doubts about their prospects. Texas Right to Life has instead endorsed bills that would curtail late-term abortions and ban abortions based on a fetus' race, gender or disability.

If the Supreme Court ever did overturn Roe v. Wade, states would presumably be left to decide for themselves whether abortion would be legal.

The renewed challenges come as the number of abortions performed in the U.S. has steadily declined since reaching a peak of 1.6 million in 1990. The latest 50-state tally was 926,000 in 2014, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports abortion rights.

The heartbeat bills in particular have alarmed many women.

After Kentucky's governor signed the heartbeat bill, and before it was blocked, "we could feel the fear," said Marcie Crim of the Kentucky Health Justice Network, which runs a fund supporting women who opt to get abortions.

"We had so many phone calls from people trying to save up the money for their procedure," Crim said. "They were thinking they were safe and could go get this done, and all of a sudden it was snatched away from them."

For the moment, the spotlight is on Georgia, where Kemp is expected to sign the heartbeat bill soon despite high-profile protests. More than 50 actors, including Alyssa Milano, Alec Baldwin and Amy Schumer, threatened a campaign to pull Hollywood productions out of Georgia — a hub for TV and movie projects — if the ban is enacted.

Other states where heartbeat bills have been filed — and in some cases advanced — include Ohio, Tennessee, Missouri, South Carolina, Florida, Texas, Louisiana and West Virginia.

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Confirmed Cases: 115763

Reported Deaths: 3263
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Hinds7973177
DeSoto703979
Harrison522384
Jackson457884
Rankin394086
Madison383194
Lee357380
Forrest304678
Jones292484
Washington258399
Lafayette250443
Lauderdale2478135
Lamar225538
Oktibbeha202454
Bolivar201677
Neshoba1849111
Lowndes179962
Panola170040
Leflore167187
Sunflower162349
Warren154855
Monroe150673
Pontotoc147220
Marshall143129
Lincoln140157
Pike138456
Copiah137536
Scott125429
Coahoma124937
Grenada122638
Yazoo122234
Simpson121549
Union118825
Tate116839
Leake115041
Holmes114760
Itawamba113925
Pearl River113660
Adams108544
Prentiss106120
Wayne101722
Alcorn100112
George99218
Covington97527
Marion95042
Tippah90322
Newton86627
Chickasaw85526
Tallahatchie84526
Winston84121
Hancock84028
Tishomingo81241
Attala79426
Clarke75851
Clay69321
Jasper68717
Walthall63927
Calhoun62612
Noxubee59817
Smith59416
Montgomery54923
Yalobusha54514
Claiborne53716
Tunica53517
Lawrence51814
Perry49423
Carroll49312
Greene47818
Stone47514
Humphreys43816
Amite42513
Quitman4206
Jefferson Davis41011
Webster37613
Benton3416
Wilkinson33820
Kemper32615
Sharkey28514
Jefferson27610
Franklin2423
Choctaw2086
Issaquena1074
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Confirmed Cases: 158701

Reported Deaths: 2680
CountyConfirmedDeaths
Jefferson23292377
Mobile16916315
Tuscaloosa10345140
Montgomery10250197
Madison935096
Shelby739063
Baldwin665869
Lee654665
Calhoun459961
Marshall439550
Etowah428551
Houston417034
Morgan416435
DeKalb342629
Elmore320853
St. Clair295542
Limestone287230
Walker279492
Talladega266435
Cullman248024
Lauderdale229442
Jackson215915
Autauga205931
Franklin205531
Colbert202132
Russell19493
Blount193225
Chilton188432
Dallas186627
Coffee177111
Dale176351
Covington174729
Escambia172730
Clarke135217
Chambers135044
Pike134113
Tallapoosa132987
Marion108129
Barbour10339
Marengo101922
Butler101140
Winston92913
Geneva9067
Lawrence85832
Pickens85218
Bibb84014
Randolph82716
Hale76830
Washington74912
Clay74412
Cherokee73814
Henry7176
Lowndes71328
Bullock64917
Monroe64610
Crenshaw60830
Perry5926
Fayette57713
Cleburne5698
Wilcox56812
Conecuh56113
Macon53620
Lamar4965
Sumter47221
Choctaw39212
Greene34216
Coosa2043
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