No-compromise bills reveal state divides with Roe v. Wade on ropes
In New York, it’s easier than ever to obtain an abortion up until the moment of birth. Not so in Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio, which enacted legislation this year banning most abortions after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, as early as six weeks.
The 1973 Roe v. Wade decision was supposed to create a national standard on the procedure, but with Roe on the ropes, a flood of abortion legislation has expanded and underlined the divide between red states seeking to overturn the high court ruling and blue states fighting to preserve it.
Mary Ziegler, professor at Florida State University College of Law, attributed this year’s aggressive legislative push on both sides of the abortion issue to a combination of the increasingly polarized political climate and a “reaction to the court.”
“The heartbeat bills are designed to be a vehicle for the court to overturn Roe quickly, and the New York bill is one of the kinds of things you’d expect to see in anticipation of a post-Roe world,” she said.
The indirect credit goes to Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh, whose addition to the Supreme Court in October solidified the 5-4 conservative majority and spurred the ambitious pro-life bills making their way through Republican-led state legislatures.
Michael Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life, called the fetal heartbeat bill “the best strategy at this time and with this court” to scuttle Roe.
“We believe this is the most pro-life court we have had in over a generation,” said Mr. Gonidakis. “When President Trump’s two nominees became members of the court, we knew we had the best shot with SCOTUS in my lifetime. Of course, there are no guarantees, but we feel confident.”
The reaction has been opposite in blue states such as New York, where activists and lawmakers who support abortion rights have pushed legislation to “codify Roe” by enshrining abortion protections into state law, expanding access and removing restrictions.
“It’s a reflection of how the politics of abortion have polarized further,” said Ms. Ziegler. “You see Democrats in blue states expecting to make political hay from bills that might have been considered extreme in the past, and something similar being true of heartbeat bills.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, signed a bill in January clearing the way for late-term abortions. In Illinois, a bill to repeal a 1995 law requiring parental notification before minors may undergo abortions cleared a Senate committee last month.
Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker, a Democrat, signed an executive order in January ensuring that state employees have abortion insurance coverage after vowing to make Illinois “the most progressive state in the nation” on “women’s reproductive rights.”
Vermont is one of seven states with virtually no limits on abortion, and state legislators are determined to keep it that way with legislation and a constitutional amendment making official the pro-choice status quo. Each has been approved by one legislative chamber.
Despite the blue state activity, the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank once affiliated with Planned Parenthood, said that “those efforts were overshadowed by attempts to restrict abortion access.”
“Although the overall number of abortion restrictions introduced so far in 2019 was essentially the same as in the first quarter of 2018, the extreme nature of this year’s bills is unprecedented,” Guttmacher said in its April 3 analysis.
“In particular, conservative state legislatures are looking to enact abortion bans