2 abortion bans failed, 1 passed in US statehouses this week

·6 min read

Ten months after the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Roe v. Wade and a nationwide right to abortion, states are pushing in opposite directions on the issue.

This week, one state adopted a ban, two states tried to but didn't get support from enough lawmakers and three states advanced measures to protect abortion access. These are the latest developments among a slew of legislative and court actions on abortion.

Here's what's happening:

BANNING ABORTION

North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum on Monday signed a law that made his state the 14th with a ban in effect on abortions at all stages of pregnancy.

The ban has narrow exceptions. Abortions of pregnancies caused by rape or incest are allowed only in the first six weeks. And they're allowed later only for specific medical emergencies.

The practical impact in the state is expected to be small since there have been no abortion clinics there since one moved last year from Fargo to nearby Moorhead, Minnesota.

And the ban is expected to face a court challenge, just like the one that it replaced, which was put on hold by a court last year.

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FALLING SHORT

Two conservative states tried and narrowly failed to adopt abortion bans on Thursday.

In Nebraska, the unicameral legislature came one vote short of breaking a filibuster to enable a vote on setting a ban on abortions after cardiac activity can be detected — around six weeks into pregnancy and often before women realize they're pregnant.

In conservative South Carolina, the five women in the Senate, including three Republicans who describe themselves as “pro-life,” also filibustered against a bill that had already passed the House and would have banned abortion at all stages of pregnancy. Six Republicans helped defeat the effort in a 22-21 vote to shelve the bill for the rest of the year.

The state Senate has previously passed a ban after cardiac activity can be detected.

South Carolina has become a major destination for abortions for women in Southern states with bans in place.

The state Supreme Court last year blocked enforcement of a ban after cardiac activity last year and then struck it down permanently in January. But a change in the makeup of the court has anti-abortion groups optimistic that a ban could stick if lawmakers could agree on how restrictive it should be.

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ABORTION PILL ACCESS

Both chambers of Vermont's legislature passed bills on Thursday to protect access to abortion and gender-affirming care, moves echoing those made in other liberal states recently.

But the Vermont legislation has a new wrinkle: It includes keeping legal “medication that was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for termination of a pregnancy as of January 1, 2023, regardless of the medication’s current FDA approval status.”

That's a reference to another continuing saga over the legal status of mifepristone, one of two drugs used in a regimen that's the most common way to obtain an abortion in the U.S. A federal judge in Texas ruled in April that its approval by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration in 2000 should be reversed. The U.S. Supreme Court this month said it will be kept legal for now. The next step in the case is arguments before the New Orleans-based U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit on May 17.

Advocates of the Vermont law say that if the approval is pulled, it would still be available in the state under its law, so long as Republican Gov. Phil Scott signs it.

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ADDING PROTECTIONS

At least 19 states have adopted laws or executive orders since last year protecting access to abortion, largely through measures aimed at protecting out-of-state patients, medical providers and other helpers from investigations by states where abortion is banned.

In a growing number of states, those laws apply both to those who seek abortion and gender-affirming care such as puberty blockers and hormone treatment for transgender people.

On Thursday, the Democratic governors of Minnesota and Washington state signed such laws.

Minnesota shares borders with three states that have abortion bans, including North Dakota now that a ban is in place.

Washington's neighbor is Idaho, where a law signed this month made it illegal for an adult to help a minor get an abortion without parental consent.

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SOFTENING RESTRICTIONS - A BIT

Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee on Friday signed a law to soften the state's strict abortion ban a bit.

The Republican had previously said it did not need changes.

The revised law still does not include exceptions in the cases of rape or incest but does allow doctors to use “reasonable medical judgment” when determining an abortion is necessary to prevent the death of a pregnant patient or to prevent irreversible, severe impairment of a major bodily function. Lawmakers also clarified that doctors may provide abortion services for ectopic pregnancies and miscarriages.

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NEW RESTRICTIONS IN A DIVIDED STATE

In Kansas, Republican lawmakers continue to push for restrictions even after voters last year decisively affirmed abortion rights.

Under laws adopted this week in Kansas with overrides of vetoes by Democratic Gov. Laura Kelly, health care providers could face criminal charges over accusations about their care of newborns delivered during certain abortion procedures. The state is to provide $2 million to centers run by abortion opponents. Clinics would also be required to tell patients that medication abortions can be stopped using a drug regimen.

Medical providers say the reversal procedure is ineffective and potentially dangerous and babies born during abortions are very rare.

With these policies, too, the divisions run deep: The neighboring state of Colorado has a ban on treatments to reverse medication abortions. On Friday, a federal judge there said he would not block the state from enforcing it. The state has said it doesn't plan to anyway until regulators develop rules.

In another new restriction, Montana's health department said that beginning Monday, it will require documentation that an abortion is “medically necessary” before the state's Medicaid health insurance program for lower-income people will pay for it.

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IN COURT

A court has blocked an abortion ban from being enforced in Utah, but lawmakers there are trying another novel approach to reduce availability of abortions provided: banning clinics that provide them.

Under the law signed in March, clinics will no longer be able to apply for licenses as of May 3. The Planned Parenthood Association of Utah says that absent intervention, it will shut down its three clinics in the state on May 3.

A judge on Friday said he would rule on the ban next week.

Geoff Mulvihill, The Associated Press