Republican states that have passed increasingly tough abortion restrictions only to see them blocked by the federal courts have a new template in an unusually written Texas law that represents the most far-reaching curb on abortions in nearly half a century.
On Thursday, Republican lawmakers in at least half a dozen states said they planned to introduce bills using the Texas law as a model, hoping it provides a pathway to enacting the kind of abortion limits they have sought for years.
In Mississippi, Republican state Sen. Chris McDaniel said he would “absolutely” consider filing legislation to match the Texas law after a sharply divided U.S. Supreme Court let it stand, 5-4.
“I think most conservative states in the South will look at this inaction by the court and will see that as perhaps a chance to move on that issue,” he said.
The Texas law, which took effect Wednesday, prohibits abortions once medical professionals can detect cardiac activity, usually around six weeks and before many women know they’re pregnant.
While a dozen states have tried to enact bans early in pregnancy, those laws have been blocked by courts. But Texas may have found a way around federal court limits by enacting an unusual enforcement scheme that authorizes private citizens to file lawsuits in state court against abortion providers and anyone involved in aiding an abortion, including someone who drives a woman to a clinic.
The law includes a minimum award of $10,000 for a successful lawsuit, but does not have government officials criminally enforce the law.
In addition to Mississippi, GOP lawmakers and abortion opponents in at least five other Republican-controlled states — Arkansas, Florida, Indiana, North Dakota and South Dakota — said they were considering pushing bills similar to the Texas law and its citizen-enforcement provision.
“Even though you may have pro-life legislators, you do not always have pro-life bureaucrats who are willing to do enforcement inspections,” said Indiana state Sen. Liz Brown, a Republican who has been the sponsor of several anti-abortion bills adopted in recent years.
Republicans for years have turned to statehouses in conservative states to find new ways to erode abortion rights enshrined by the high court’s landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The Supreme Court — at least for now — has cleared a path forward for them.
“We’re excited, and we really do think that the heartbeat bill strategy is working," said Blaine Conzatti, president of the Idaho Family Policy Center, which opposes abortions.
Idaho passed a law this year with restrictions similar to those in Texas, but it will only go into effect if a U.S. appeals court upholds another state's law, a condition that has not been met.
Arkansas state Sen. Jason Rapert on Thursday tweeted that he planned to file legislation mirroring Texas’ law when lawmakers reconvene this fall. The Republican lawmaker sponsored a 2013 “heartbeat” abortion ban that was later struck down by federal courts and another outright ban enacted this year that a federal judge has blocked.
Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, a Republican, said the state should wait until the more stringent anti-abortion Arkansas law receives a final judgment.
Hutchinson called the court’s ruling on Texas’ law a “procedural victory” for abortion opponents, but said it doesn’t reflect the court’s view on whether Roe v. Wade should be reversed. Overturning that decision is abortion opponents’ foremost goal.
In Tennessee, Stacy Dunn, the president of Tennessee Right to Life, said she is hopeful the Supreme Court's decision to allow the Texas law to go in effect means the high court will rule to reverse Roe. Ten states, including Tennessee, have laws that would effectively outlaw most abortions should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
“This Texas law could be a ray of light at the end of a very long and dark tunnel, and our state is ready,” Dunn said in a statement.
Democrats also anticipated the Supreme Court’s new conservative majority overturning Roe, although they fear a ruling striking it down would leave old state laws outlawing abortions in effect.
“Reproductive freedom in our state is built on case law,” said New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, a Democrat, as he pushed for state lawmakers to enact a bill that would enshrine access to abortions.
“All of that case law is in turn built on the Supreme Court’s decision on Roe v. Wade. If the foundation of that series of case laws is impacted, impaired, taken away, the entire reality in our state falls like a house of cards, which is why we need to, as soon as possible, put this protection into statute."
In New Mexico, Democratic state Rep. Patricia Roybal Caballero of Albuquerque said she was angered by the Texas law because it might lead to underground abortion procedures that endanger the lives of women unable to find clinics offering safe protocols for the practice.
Roybal Caballero, a “Catholic for choice” in her words, wants New Mexico to provide safe passage to anyone seeking medical care, including abortion procedures that she believes should be a matter of personal choice. A clinic in Albuquerque is one of only a few independent facilities in the country that perform abortions close to the third trimester without conditions.
“We don’t want to go back to the 1960s and 1970s underground days of illegal abortions," she said. "It’s our decision. And if it’s going to be our decision, it should be a safe and healthy outcome.”
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