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Just how extreme are these new red-state abortion laws?

Kentucky state Rep. Randy Bridges (R) reacts Wednesday to protesters chanting “Bans off our bodies” at the Kentucky Capitol, as Republicans passed a restrictive abortion law. (Ryan C. Hermens/Lexington Herald-Leader/AP)
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Authorities appear to have made a mistake by charging a Texas woman with murder after an alleged abortion. State law specifically protects a woman from murder charges for aborting a pregnancy, reports The Post’s Caroline Kitchener.

But the near-total abortion bans being passed in red states right now are no mistake.

What do these new laws do?

Emboldened by a conservative Supreme Court that may knock down abortion protections this summer, these new laws often don’t allow for abortions in the case of rape or incest.

On Tuesday, Oklahoma’s governor signed a law criminalizing providing abortion in the state. The law doesn’t punish the woman, and it makes an exception only if the life of the woman is in danger, not for rape or incest. On Wednesday, Republicans in Kentucky overrode the Democratic governor’s veto to implement a 15-week abortion ban. It, too, makes an exception only if the woman’s life is in danger.

On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) signed a very similar bill into law.

Oklahoma lawmakers pass bill to make performing an abortion illegal, punishable by up to 10 years. (Video: Alice Li/The Washington Post)

A ban on abortions after about six weeks in Texas that went into effect in September also makes no exceptions for rape or incest. Idaho’s version of a Texas-style ban was supposed to take effect April 22; the state supreme court temporarily blocked it.

We should stop here to say that there is no federal law on abortion. Instead, the Supreme Court has upheld a woman’s right to an abortion up until about 24 weeks of pregnancy, leaving the states to decide on any further regulations. But this spring, the justices will rule on whether to uphold a 15-week ban in Mississippi — and whether to strike down abortion protections altogether. Meanwhile, the court has passed up three opportunities to block the Texas six-week ban.

Abortion bans with few or no carveouts are popular with the Republican base, specifically the purists of the antiabortion movement.

But these laws are well outside the mainstream of America. In fact, they are some of the most extreme abortion laws put in place in about 70 years, well before the Supreme Court put in nationwide abortion protections in Roe v. Wade, say abortion rights supporters.

“It really does hark back to the abortion bans you saw before Roe,” said Elizabeth Nash, who follows state abortion policy for the Guttmacher Institute, an abortion research group that supports abortion rights. She has written that 2021 was the worst year for abortion rights in half a century; 2022 could be on track to match that.

Tracking new legislation on abortion in states

Nash said some of the new laws echo language from the 1800s, which instituted stiff penalties on abortion providers. In Oklahoma, anyone performing an abortion can face 10 years in prison and a $100,000 fine.

The ultimate goal with these laws is “to protect all unborn life,” said Oklahoma state Senate President Pro Tempore Greg Treat (R).

Republicans argue that allowing abortion in the case of rape won’t solve the issue of sexual assault.

“I don’t think allowing those individuals to continue to hide their crimes by forcing the abortions or allowing those abortions are going to solve that problem,” state Sen. Kelli Stargel (R), who sponsored Florida’s 15-week ban, said during debate over that bill.

Does the public support these new laws?

How Americans can feel about abortion can be difficult to pin down — it hinges on how you ask the question, and small nuances make a big difference.

Generally, Americans support at least some restrictions on abortion. They have settled in recent years on supporting keeping the Supreme Court’s abortion protections, up to about 24 weeks of pregnancy. In a Washington Post-ABC News poll in November, 60 percent of Americans said the Supreme Court should uphold Roe v. Wade, while 27 percent said it should be overturned.

Less than 13 percent think abortion should be illegal in all cases, according to a May 2021 Pew Research Center survey. But a disproportionate share of those who want total bans on abortion are Republicans: 63 percent of respondents who are Republican or Republican-leaning think abortion should be illegal in all or most cases.

That means these new laws are pretty popular with one party — but extremely unpopular with the general public.

In 2021, the General Social Survey asked Americans whether it should be possible to obtain a legal abortion under the following scenarios. You will see that support for exceptions for abortion in the case of rape is extremely high.

  • 89 percent if a woman’s health is seriously endangered.
  • 83 percent if a woman is pregnant as a result of rape.
  • 77 percent if there was a strong chance of a serious defect in the baby.
  • 57 percent if a woman is married and does not want more children.
  • 56 percent if a woman is low-income and can’t afford more children.
  • 55 percent if a woman is not married and does not want to marry.
  • 54 percent if a woman wants for any reason.

This wave of new, more absolute abortion restrictions tends to avoid one area: punishing the woman for having an abortion. Nash said that traditionally, antiabortion activists have framed those seeking abortions as victims and abortion providers as liable for legal penalties. Texas antiabortion groups opposed last week’s arrest, for example. The district attorney dropped the charges and apologized, Kitchener reported.)

But because antiabortion activists have good reason to believe that the U.S. Supreme Court could uphold their restrictions, they are intent on pursuing every other avenue to restrict and criminalize abortion, even if their methods are viewed as extreme by a majority of Americans.

“I believe deeply in the value and dignity of every human life,” said Treat, the Oklahoma lawmaker, as his legislature passed their bill, “and so do the vast majority of my colleagues and the vast majority of Oklahomans, and we will continue to push that envelope as far as we possibly can.”

Emily Guskin contributed to this report.

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