President Trump just scored a political base victory by signing a law that allows states to withhold federal funds from Planned Parenthood and other facilities that provide abortions.
But the real movement on abortion is happening in the states. There, antiabortion advocates are on a roll, passing some of the most restrictive abortion laws ever. And with the winds shifting in Washington in favor of conservatives, some antiabortion advocates are banking that the ultimate prize — ending legal abortion — could be within reach.
There are now 17 states that ban abortion after 20 weeks, when antiabortion advocates argue a fetus can feel pain. In the 2017 state legislative session (which for many states isn't halfway over), five states have passed major abortion restriction laws, and 28 legislatures have introduced legislation banning some or all types of abortion.
- Like it did last year, Arkansas is leading the pack. It has passed a flurry of antiabortion laws: One will require doctors to look into a woman's pregnancy history to make sure she isn't getting an abortion based on gender selection. Another will let husbands sue to prevent their wives from getting a second-trimester abortion. And the state banned the most common abortion procedures employed in the second trimester. (Similar bans have faced legal challenges in Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama.)
- A new law in Arizona will require doctors to resuscitate a fetus if it's born alive in an abortion procedure. It will also be one of the only states to require clinics have certain lifesaving equipment on hand.
- Shortly after Republicans took control of the state House, which Democrats had held for nearly a century, Kentucky became the 17th state to ban all abortions at or after 20 weeks. Doctors also have to do an ultrasound on a woman who wants an abortion. Kentucky also just signed into law a bill taking away federal funds from Planned Parenthood, with a provision at the bottom that it would go into effect once Trump signed Thursday's bill.
- Wyoming, which hasn't enacted an abortion restriction in nearly three decades, just signed into law a requirement that doctors offer a woman an ultrasound and an opportunity to listen to a fetal heartbeat during abortion counseling.
- In Utah, abortion providers will soon have to counsel a woman wanting an abortion about a medically unproven procedure to undo it. (Despite the fact the top gynecology organization in America does not approve of this method, bills allowing for counseling about it was introduced in four other states.)
That's a lot of movement on abortion in a few months. But antiabortion advocates have actually been on a roll for six years and counting. Since Republicans swept control of a majority of state legislatures in 2010, states have enacted more than 350 abortion restrictions. In the 2016 state legislative session, some 14 states made it harder to get an abortion.
Antiabortion advocates have been so successful at restricting abortions that lawmakers are now coming up with some creative and eyebrow-raising ways to push the envelope.
A proposal that recently passed the Kansas state House requires a woman to receive her abortion information in black ink in 12-point Times New Roman font.
In Alabama, lawmakers are debating a constitutional amendment to ban abortion completely.
Since they haven't been able to stem the tide legislatively, abortion rights advocates have successfully been playing whack-a-mole through the courts. Many state laws banning abortion before or at 20 weeks end up getting held up or gutted in court, or GOP governors veto them to avoid such a fate.
With the landscape in Washington shifted to the right, however, court challenges might not be as much of a roadblock for antiabortion advocates.
Even with newly sworn in conservative Justice Neil M. Gorsuch, there are still five justices on the U.S. Supreme Court that have upheld abortion rights, including recently striking down Texas abortion clinic restrictions. But if some of the court's liberal or swing seats opened up during the Trump administration, that could change. Antiabortion advocates think it's feasible we could see a court in the next four to eight years that would be amendable to reversing its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
Elizabeth Nash with the abortion rights research group Guttmacher Institute says there's an arms race in conservative states to pass increasingly strict abortion laws in hopes of being the trigger for a tidal wave of abortion bans.
“One of these states are looking to be that state to enact the law that ends up at the Supreme Court and overturns Roe v. Wade,” she said. “That's what we're watching for.”
Four states — Louisiana, Mississippi, and North and South Dakota — have laws in place that would immediately ban abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. A January report from the Center for Reproductive Rights calculates that abortion could quickly be illegal in 33 states if given the option.
In a “60 Minutes” interview shortly after getting elected, President Trump seemed okay with that: “Well, they’ll perhaps have to go — they’ll have to go to another state,” he said of women who would want an abortion under that scenario.
Antiabortion advocates, like Mary Spalding Balch with the National Right to Life Committee, say the ultimate goal is ending all abortion: “We still have a long way to go to achieve full protection of the unborn child,” she told The Fix last year.
The trend is in that direction.