The passage by Alabama of the nation's strictest abortion bill is the latest bid by states in the South and Midwest to stake out a legal challenge on a highly emotional, and controversial topic.
These laws not only limit, if not eliminate, the options for abortion in individual states, they essentially invite a more conservative U.S. Supreme Court to weigh in and possibly reverse on the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
While some states have long been active in their anti-abortion efforts, many now find the political atmosphere under the Trump administration more supportive, particularly after the addition of two conservative justices on the high court.
"It is clearer than ever that Roe is far from being settled law in the eyes and hearts of the American people, and this is increasingly reflected in state legislatures," Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, an anti-abortion advocacy group, said in a statement Wednesday. "The American people want a fresh debate and a new direction, achieved by consensus and built on love for both mothers and babies. The time is coming for the Supreme Court to let that debate go forward.”
For abortion-rights supporters, meanwhile, the Alabama law is ominous. "The bill that ... is an all-out abortion ban. But make no mistake: Women across the country see what is happening, and they are going to be the deciding voters in the 2020 election," said Cecile Richards, former president of Planned Parenthood.
Alabama abortion bill: 25 men voted to ban abortion in the state. Do they reflect the rest of America?
Missouri's Republican-led Senate passed a bill to ban abortions at eight weeks of pregnancy. Senators approved the legislation 24-10 early Thursday. It needs at least one more vote of approval in the GOP-led House before it can go to Republican Gov. Mike Parson, who voiced support for it on Wednesday.
The measure would ban abortions after eight weeks and require that both parents be notified in order for a minor to get an abortion, with exceptions. In addition, it would include a ban on abortions based on race, sex or a "prenatal diagnosis, test, or screening indicating Down Syndrome or the potential of Down Syndrome in an unborn child."
Alabama's law makes performing virtually all abortions a crime, punishable as Class A felony, punishable by life or 10 to 99 years in prison. It passed the legislature on Tuesday and was signed by Republican Gov. Kay Ivey on Wednesday.
In April, Ohio became the third state this year to pass a "heartbeat" bill banning abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. The ban takes effect after the detection of a fetal heartbeat at a point before many women are even aware they are pregnant.
Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed his state's bill. Kentucky and Mississippi have passed similar laws.
Meanwhile, "heartbeat" bills have passed one chamber of the legislature in Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee and have been introduced in Florida, Illinois, Louisiana, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia.
The bills hit at the nexus of the abortion debate, and frame the act in stark, emotional terms, with proponents arguing that preserving life outweighs arguments against government interference in personal, medical decisions.
The Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit group on sexual and reproductive health issues, finds the abortion debate ranges from seven states deemed "very hostile" to abortion rights (Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Louisiana, Missouri, South Dakota) to one state (California) considered "very supportive."
The institute says legislation is under consideration in more than 25 states to ban abortion in a variety of ways.
These include "trigger bans" that would automatically make abortion illegal if Roe is overturned; "method bans" that would bar providers from performing a specific type of abortion; "reason bans" that would prohibit abortion based on fetal characteristics, such as sex, race or disability status; and "gestational age bans," prohibiting an abortion at a specific point in pregnancy, such as six, 18 or 20 weeks after the last menstrual period.
In April, North Dakota's Republican governor signed a bill outlawing a second-trimester abortion procedure known as dilation and evacuation.
The law, which includes the non-medical term “human dismemberment abortion," makes it a crime for doctors to use instruments such as clamps, scissors and forceps to remove the fetus from the womb during the second trimester.
Women getting the procedure would not be charged, but doctors performing it would face a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $10,000 fine. An exception exists for medical emergencies.
Legal roadblocks and opportunities
Kentucky's bill has been stymied by a federal court order blocking enforcement and the first-in-the-nation bill passed by North Dakota in 2013 was ruled unconstitutional, as was one passed last year in Iowa.
To many anti-abortion voices, legal challenges are the point.
“The heartbeat bill is the next incremental step in our strategy to overturn Roe v. Wade,” Ohio Right to Life President Mike Gonidakis told the Associated Press last month.
“While other states embrace radical legislation to legalize abortion on demand through the ninth month of pregnancy, Ohio has drawn a line and continues to advance protections for unborn babies," he said.
Likewise, pro-abortion forces see the courts as an avenue to create precedents to fortify their position.
After Gov. DeWine signed the Ohio bill, the national ACLU response was swift and pointed: "We'll see you in court."
Jennifer Dalven, director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, said recently that the attempts to go after Roe have been going on for a decade, but now the opponents "are out in the open as to their goal."
Meanwhile, she says, states are also passing other laws, such as narrowly restricting clinic options for women, that are "quietly pushing abortion out of the reach for thousands of women."
Dalven also notes that the Supreme Court already has a number of abortion-related cases it could take up immediately it if wanted to and does not have to wait for a "heartbeat" abortion challenge to work its way up the appeals track.
Divide over abortion in America
Laws against abortion are by no means a slam-dunk, even in Red states. Proposed heartbeat bans failed to pass this year in Texas and fell short in Florida, South Carolina, Tennessee and West Virginia.
In addition, 13 states have introduced legislation that would establish legal protections for abortion or repeal what they view as outdated abortion laws.
In January, New York adopted the "Reproductive Health Act" that affirms the right to abortion until the fetus is viable and when the patient’s life or health is at risk.
It joins nine other states in establishing legal protections for abortion. Similar bills have passed the first legislative chamber in New Mexico, Rhode Island and Vermont, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Contributing: Associated Press
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Abortion bills at nexus of national debate among states