‘Worse than Texas’: Extreme anti-choice bills advance in multiple states

"These attacks on our rights are coordinated and connected," noted Planned Parenthood Action.

As anti-choice policymakers across the country seek to severely restrict reproductive freedom—and as the fate of Roe v. Wade hangs in the balance pending a looming U.S. Supreme Court decision—Republican lawmakers in at least four states this week advanced bills banning or limiting abortion access.

The Idaho Legislature on Monday became the first in the nation to approve a bill modeled after a Texas law that empowers citizens to sue anyone who “aids or abets” an abortion after six weeks.

Idaho’s S.B. 1309 bans abortions after six weeks of pregnancy while allowing potential relatives of an aborted fetus to sue doctors who perform the procedure. The bill establishes a reward of $20,000 plus legal fees for successful litigants. Unlike the Texas law, it allows exceptions in cases of rape or incest but requires victims to file a police report with a physician before undergoing an abortion.

State Rep. Lauren Necochea (D-19A) called the bill an “extreme assault on reproductive rights.”

“If I am raped and choose to have an abortion and my rapist has 10 siblings, is there anything to preclude all of them and their spouses from bringing a lawsuit for $20,000 each?” Necochea asked state Rep. Steven Harris (R-21), the bill’s sponsor, during a pre-vote debate.

“I’m not sure their spouses are included in that list,” said Harris, “but no.”

S.B. 1309 is now in the hands of Republican Gov. Brad Little. Spokesperson Marissa Morrison said the governor has not yet reviewed the bill and does not comment on pending legislation.

In Tennessee, GOP state lawmakers on Tuesday advanced H.B. 2779, which effectively bans all abortions from conception, with exceptions allowed only when a pregnancy endangers the mother’s life.

State Rep. Rebecca Alexander (R-7), the first-term lawmaker who introduced the bill, said it is “modeled directly after the legislation passed in Texas last year,” adding that “while the Texas law prohibits abortion once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity—usually around six weeks—the Tennessee language proposes to prohibit all abortion.”

Alexander noted that abortions in Texas have decreased by more than half after the law took effect last September. However, Planned Parenthood clinics in five states neighboring Texas reported an 800% increase in the number of patients seeking abortions in the months following the law’s implementation.

Like the Texas law, the Tennessee bill effectively deputizes citizens as vigilante enforcers, offering the incentive of a $10,000 reward to those who successfully sue someone for “aiding or abetting” abortion-seekers.

CHOICES: Memphis Center for Reproductive Health, which provides abortions, said in a statement: “If this bill is allowed to go into effect, people who need abortions will be forced to either travel out of state, not receive the healthcare that they need, or seek abortions in unsafe situations. This is a heartbreaking decision and one that sets Tennesseans back decades. This ban is unconstitutional and will create dire circumstances in which individuals are asked to serve as “bounty hunters” for financial reward to the detriment of people seeking care.”

State Rep. Bob Freeman (D-56) noted during a pre-vote hearing that “one in six women are victims of rape over their lives” before asking Alexander if “a minor who is raped becomes pregnant; they seek an abortion; the rapist’s mother, father, neighbor, girlfriend decides to sue, the doctor will be responsible for paying a $10,000 fine?”

“That is correct,” Alexander replied.

“Do you believe that people experiencing a miscarriage should be subjected to inquiries and subpoenas for some stranger who believes they have an abortion?” Freeman asked. Alexander replied affirmatively.

Even some anti-choice Republicans questioned the Tennessee bill’s broad scope.

“So if there’s anything really badly wrong with the fetus, then that’s not an excuse?” state Rep. Pat Marsh (R-62) asked during the hearing. State legislative attorney Rejul Bejoy responded affirmatively.

On Wednesday, the Kentucky Senate advanced a bill, S.B. 321, which would ban abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions in cases of incest or rape. The measure—which is modeled after the Mississippi law under review by the U.S. Supreme Court in a case that could overturn Roe—now heads to the Republican-controlled state House of Representatives.

In a statement, Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates of Kentucky called the bill “cruel and dangerous,” while noting that “major medical providers like the American Medical Association and the American Academy of Pediatrics oppose this type of 15-week abortion ban, because they put safe and timely abortion care out of reach from patients, and put patients’ health and well-being at risk.”

While tabling a proposed Texas-style six-week abortion ban bill, the New Hampshire House of Representatives passed two anti-choice measures on Wednesday. According to the Associated Press, one of the bills would allow healthcare workers to “refuse to participate in the delivery of contraception or abortion care,” while the other “would eliminate the safety zone that keeps protesters at least 25 feet away from abortion clinics.”

Kayla Montgomery, vice president of public affairs at Planned Parenthood New Hampshire Action Fund, said in a statement that “today’s shameful votes are out of step with Granite State values and the will of voters, who overwhelmingly support access to safe, legal abortion and oppose current restrictions on the books already.”

“Now is the time for New Hampshire to lead the nation in bodily autonomy, medical privacy, and reproductive freedom,” she added, “not cower to an extreme out-of-state political agenda that will harm our residents.”

On Tuesday, 21 states filed an amicus brief supporting South Carolina’s defense of its so-called “fetal heartbeat” law. The legislation, which was signed last year by Republican Gov. Henry McMaster, was immediately challenged by Planned Parenthood, resulting in a restraining order and subsequent preliminary injunction that was recently upheld by a federal appeals court.

Pushing back against the anti-choice wave, the Colorado House of Representatives on Monday approved proposed legislation that, if passed, would codify the right to abortion. The bill is expected to pass in the Democrat-controlled Senate; Democratic Gov. Jared Polis has indicated he will sign the measure into law.

GOP lawmakers’ efforts to cut off abortion access within and beyond their state borders have heightened calls for the U.S. Senate to pass the House-approved Women’s Health Protection Act, which would affirm the right to abortion nationwide.

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Brett Wilkins is staff writer for Common Dreams.

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