Republican state legislatures are succeeding in restricting abortion in North Carolina, Wisconsin, Ohio, and Texas as protests rage across the country. It turns out that all they needed was the high-profile and gruesome Kermit Gosnell murder trial to energize conservative lawmakers. Despite protests against the restrictive bills, Democrats have only been successful in stalling the bills, not stopping them.
After the Republican wave election in 2010, several states, like South Dakota and Kansas, pushed for new abortion rules. Kansas dropped to a single abortion clinic in February 2011, while South Dakota debated but then abandoned a bill that would have redefined justifiable homicide to allow using lethal force to protect a fetus. In November 2011, Mississippi voters rejected a state constitutional amendment to declare a fertilized egg a person. This time, the energizing force was not an election, but a Pennsylvania murder trial. Texas Gov. Rick Perry said earlier this month, "We saw this Gosnell clinic in Philadelphia and the horrors that went on there, sticking the scissors in the backs, baby’s backs to end their lives. We saw that same type of action in a clinic in Houston Texas... I think you’re seeing the awakening of a sleeping giant in this country to protect babies." Here's how the abortion bills are progressing in four states:
Sixty-four abortion-rights activists were arrested Monday evening during the continuing "Moral Monday" protests in North Carolina's capitol. The protests, which have addressed topics ranging from voting rights to school vouchers, are currently in their tenth week. Monday's drew over 2,000 people to Raleigh and centered on recent abortion restrictions passed by the state Senate.
The Senate snuck these restrictions into a bill otherwise concerned with banning Sharia law on July 3. The amendments would require increased regulation of abortion clinics that would likely cause many to close. They would also place restrictions on doctors administering the abortion pill and prevent some insurance plans from covering abortion services. At the time, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory criticized the Senate's process, claiming, "regardless of what party is in charge or what important issue is being discussed, the process must be appropriate and thorough."
Republican State Sen. Warren Daniel argued in favor of the amendments: "We’re not here today taking away the rights of women. We’re taking away the rights of an industry to have substandard conditions." The House committee debated the bill on Tuesday. It seems McCrory is at a loss for how to talk about the bill — it's clear that he doesn't agree with it, but he doesn't want to alienate social conservatives. In a press conference at the executive mansion on Monday, he told reporters,
"There's a fine line between safety measures and restrictions, but those two lines should not be confused, and I'm very concerned about the responsibility to ensure the health of women is protected."
McCrory hasn't explicitly stated whether or not he'd sign the bill if it landed on his desk. One of the protesters arrested last night, Tanya Glover, 34, told Reuters, "this state has gone to hell and it's hurting my family."
U.S. District Judge William Conley placed a temporary restraining order on abortion legislation on Monday. The bill, which was signed into law by Republican Gov. Scott Walker on Friday, requires abortion providers to have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles. It also requires that women seeking abortions undergo an ultrasound, but that part isn't being contested.
Attorneys argued that if the law were to stand, many women would have to cancel existing appointments at a Planned Parenthood clinic in Appleton and the Affiliated Medical Clinic in Milwaukee this week. Conley noted,
There is a troubling lack of justification for the hospital admitting privileges requirement . . . Moreover, the record to date strongly supports a finding that no medical purpose is served by this requirement.
The block will remain in place until July 17, pending a fuller hearing. Last week, a small number of abortion-rights activists protested the bill outside Walker's house in Wauwatosa.
Republican Gov. John Kasich signed multiple abortion restrictions into law last week under a $62 billion budget bill. Abortion-rights activists hoped Kasich would exercise his line-item veto power to nix some of the amendments, but he left all of them intact. The restrictions are possibly the most aggressive of all the states' current proposed or passed legislation. The budget bill includes:
- A requirement that doctors test for a fetal heartbeat before performing an abortion. The doctor must then inform the woman seeking the abortion of the heartbeat and give her the odds that she could carry her child to term should she decide not to go through with the procedure. If doctors fail to do this, they could face 6-18 months in jail, depending on the number of violations.
- A prohibition against public hospitals and the doctors affiliated with them from agreeing to accept patients from abortion clinics in case of emergency. Clinics need these agreements to stay open.
- A funding priority list that puts Planned Parenthood last among various state and local agencies and health centers.
Though Ohio passed some of the toughest new abortion restrictions, some thought they didn't go far enough. Republican state Rep. Lynn Wachtmann said, "It's unfortunate that pro-life senators couldn't get more. I look at these issues in the budget as good stuff to save babies." Wachtmann was in favor of a stricter amendment regarding fetal heartbeats. After the House and Senate approved the budget bill, pro-choicers rallied at the statehouse in protest. State Sen. Nina Turner noted, "Texas lit a fuse."
After weeks of rallying on both sides of the aisle, the Texas House will vote on Tuesday on HB2, which will ban abortions after 20 weeks, and like those in the other states considering legislation, regulate abortion clinics to the point that many will have to close. Should the House and Senate approve the bills this week, Gov. Rick Perry could sign them into law as soon as Friday.
Pro-choicers are still protesting the legislation, but given the Republican majority in the Texas legislature, the bills are expected to pass.
It appears some members of the legislature are ready for protesters to leave the capitol. NBC 5 reporter Omar Villafranca tweeted from the House that some could be overheard saying, "another day in paradise."