PUBLIC SUPPORT for abortion rights is at its highest since the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe v. Wade ruling, with 67 percent of voters saying abortion should be legal in “all” or “most” cases.” At the same time, though, a record number of bills that would severely restrict — even ban — abortion have been filed and in some cases enacted in state legislatures across the country. The dichotomy is due to how Brett M. Kavanaugh’s appointment to the Supreme Court has so emboldened the antiabortion movement that extreme — even flagrantly unconstitutional — measures are now seen as worthy of pursuit.
“Now is our time. This is the best court we’ve had in my lifetime, in my parents’ lifetime,” the president of Ohio’s oldest antiabortion group told the New York Times after a ban on abortion in the very early weeks of pregnancy was signed into law. Similar laws have passed in Mississippi, Kentucky and Georgia and have been proposed in at least 11 other states. The bills would ban abortions at around six weeks of pregnancy, when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, and thus would make it virtually impossible for nearly all women to get the procedure. Many women don’t even realize they are pregnant before six weeks, which is about two weeks after a missed menstrual period.
The bills are clearly unconstitutional under the 1973 Roe decision, which said states may not restrict abortion before the fetus is viable outside the womb, generally around 24 weeks of pregnancy. Lower courts — as already occurred in Kentucky — are expected to block their implementation as legal challenges are waged. Antiabortion activists hope the Supreme Court — with Mr. Kavanaugh and President Trump’s other pick, Neil M. Gorsuch, on the bench — will use such a case to gut or overturn Roe v. Wade.
Even if that doesn’t occur, the bills allow politicians to prove their virulent antiabortion bona fides. Never mind that many red states have imposed so many restrictions in the way of waiting periods, forced ultrasounds, curbs on insurance and TRAP (targeted regulation of abortion providers) laws that it is already extremely difficult for women to get access to the procedure. Never mind that many states devoting energy, time and money to enacting and defending these abortion bans suffer from terrible health outcomes for women. Georgia, for example, has the nation’s second-worst maternal mortality rate. In parts of Missouri, which is now considering one of the most extreme antiabortion bills, maternal mortality is 50 percent higher than in the rest of the country. But the term “pro-life” does not seem to encompass concern for those endangered lives.