April 18, 2024

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Here are all of the abortion debates happening this week in US courts and statehouses

4 min read

Abortion rights protesters hold up signs criticizing North Carolina state Rep. Tricia Cotham, whose party switch from Democrat to Republican gave the GOP a veto-proof supermajority, at a rally in Raleigh, N.C., Saturday, May 13, 2023. (AP Photo/Hannah Schoenbaum)

Lawmakers in South Carolina and a judge in Montana are weighing abortion restrictions in the latest developments in the shifting landscape of law since the U.S. Supreme Court last year overturned Roe v. Wade and the nationwide right to abortion.

Here’s what to know.

BACK TO THE SENATE IN SOUTH CAROLINA

In conservative South Carolina, Republicans have been butting heads — sometimes dramatically — on how far to go with abortion bans.

Their latest effort to impose a ban on abortion after about six weeks of pregnancy — before many women know they’re pregnant — was up before the state Senate on Tuesday.

It is not a sure thing the current proposal will pass. More debate or negotiations are possible. The House passed this version last week, just weeks after an earlier effort narrowly fell short on procedural votes.

Lawmakers in similarly GOP-dominated Nebraska have taken a similar path, with intraparty disputes until a 12-week ban was passed last week as part of a bill that would also ban gender-affirming care for those under 19. Gov. Jim Pillen signed the bill Monday, and the abortion restrictions took effect immediately.

COURTS STEP IN AGAIN IN MONTANA

Montana Republican Gov. Greg Gianforte signed a ban last week on dilation and evacuation abortions, which are normally performed in the second trimester of pregnancy. The issue quickly moved to the courts, where a judge within days temporarily blocked enforcement of the ban. A hearing was scheduled for Tuesday.

It’s not the only ban in the state before the courts.

Montana in 2021 adopted a broader ban on abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, but the state Supreme Court ruled that it will not enforce it pending a court challenge. That left some abortions legal until viability, around the 24th week.

PURPLE STATE POLICY

Since the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling, tighter abortion restrictions have been enacted in most Republican-controlled states and protections of abortion access have gone into effect in most that are dominated by Democrats.

In the 11 states where government control is divided between Republicans and Democrats, the story has not been so uniform. Virginia has kept its status quo, for instance, while Vermont has adopted a constitutional amendment to preserve abortion access and Louisiana and Kentucky have bans in place.

Change came quickly in North Carolina in April when one state lawmaker flipped from Democrat to Republican, giving the GOP enough votes to override gubernatorial vetoes.

Lawmakers promptly passed a ban that’s less restrictive than most — allowing abortion for the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed it. But lawmakers on May 16 overrode that veto, so the ban will take effect July 1. The new law includes several other provisions that medical experts have criticized, including more medical and paperwork requirements for physicians, new licensing requirements for abortion clinics and increasing how many times patients must make an in-person visit to a physician ahead of obtaining the abortion pill.

COURT ARGUMENTS ON AN ABORTION PILL

Most of the legal battles on abortion since the Dobbs decision in 2022 have centered on whether individual state constitutions protect the right to abortion.

But at least one lawsuit has implications nationally.

An anti-abortion group sued seeking to rescind the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s 2000 approval of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in combination in most medication-induced abortions in the U.S.

A federal judge in Texas agreed. The New Orleans-based 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments last week. In the meantime, the U.S. Supreme Court has said that mifepristone can remain on the market. It is already barred from being used in abortions, with some exceptions, in states with bans in place.

It’s not clear when the appeals court will rule. The case is expected to return to the nation’s top court eventually. The Texas-based case could be merged with one in Washington, where another federal judge ruled last month that mifepristone restrictions cannot be rolled back in a group of Democrat-led states that filed lawsuits.

THE TALLY

Fourteen states currently have bans on abortion at all stages of pregnancy, one when cardiac activity can be detected around six weeks, and three at 12 to 15 weeks. Of those 17 states with the tightest restrictions, 12 do not have exceptions in cases of rape or incest. They all have exceptions to save the life of the woman in at least some circumstances.

At least six states have bans that courts have paused.

One more state, North Carolina, has a ban after 12 weeks of pregnancy that doesn’t take effect until July 1.

The abortion bans also apply to prescribing pills to induce abortions. But only in South Carolina and Texas is it illegal to self-manage abortions.

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