Reproductive rights fight: Breaking down the abortion battle

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Speed read

What's happening: Alabama's Republican governor on Wednesday signed into law the nation’s strictest abortion legislation – resulting in a near-total ban on the procedure in the state with no exemptions for rape or incest and prison sentences of up to 99 years for doctors who provide abortions.

Last week, Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp signed a bill that would ban abortions from the point when doctors can detect cardiac activity— a development that can occur as early as six weeks after conception. The bill is similar to so-called heartbeat legislation passed in other states

Seven states this year have passed laws to put tighter restrictions on abortion — part of a growing movement spurred by Republican lawmakers to challenge the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling, which recognized a woman’s access to safe and legal abortions as a constitutional right.

Why there's debate: The bills have caused outcry from pro-choice groups, who argue that by removing legal options for abortion providers, women’s health and safety will be compromised.

Anti-abortion advocates argue the bills are a sincere attempt to protect the lives of unborn children.

The bills have been framed as a political tactic by Republican legislators who hope to compel the Supreme Court to take on a case that might overturn Roe. Some Republican politicians have openly discussed this as a strategy.

Meanwhile Democratic lawmakers and the field of Democratic presidential candidates rushed to condemn the wave of anti-abortion legislation. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y. called the Alabama law, a “brutal form of oppression.”

What's next: Restrictive abortion bans have been roundly ruled unconstitutional by federal courts for failing the "viability" criteria established by Roe v. Wade. A Kentucky bill was suspended by a judge within hours of its passing. Any prospect of the bills in Georgia and Alabama becoming lasting law would ultimately require a reevaluation or rejection of Roe v. Wade by the Supreme Court.

The court has thus far declined to take up similar cases, although the addition of Trump appointees Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh may result in a new willingness by justices to reconsider the precedent established by Roe v. Wade. Depending on the nature of such a ruling, outright bans of abortion could become constitutional. Some states have "trigger laws" that would automatically ban abortion if Roe were overturned.


The bills are designed to force the Supreme Court to end abortion rights

"With new conservative justices on the Supreme Court, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, this groundswell of activity has one ultimate goal: to restore the direct and dangerous controls placed on women’s bodies before Roe v. Wade." — Toni Van Pelt, USA Today

"Emboldened by the rightward tilt of the U.S. Supreme Court, states are passing more severe restrictions and near-total bans in a deliberate attempt to trigger a lawsuit that could push the Supreme Court to overturn its landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade decision." — Jenny Jarvie, Los Angeles Times

Laws should protect the lives of the unborn

"In passing this heartbeat bill … our state is charting a bold course to defend the voiceless and innocent." — Cole Muzio, Atlanta Journal-Constitution

Republicans push abortion policy as a political strategy to appeal to their base

"Lawmakers may see the heartbeat bill as the 'new trend.' And when politicians see counterparts getting attention and earning political capital for their heartbeat bills, it can become a matter of 'keeping up with the Joneses and jockeying for position.'" — Jennifer Gerson, NBC News

"For an anti-abortion lawmaker who wants to signal to his base that he remains committed to the cause, there’s little left to do but to try to outlaw the procedure." — Editorial, New York Times

Limiting legal abortion leads to dangerous alternatives

"Despite Georgia legislators’ stated intentions to protect women’s health, when abortion is restricted, deaths rise; outlawing abortion forces women to resort to unsafe abortions. In limiting access to abortion, lawmakers may unwittingly force women towards these unsafe options." — Laura M. Gaydos, Elizabeth A. Mosley and Subasri Narasimhan, The Hill

Anyone old enough to remember the 1960s will recall the time when abortion was illegal in nearly every state. By the logic of the heartbeat bill, that should have meant there were no abortions, or very few. On the contrary: there were about a million abortions a year in the U.S., and only about 8,000 of those were performed in hospitals." — Patricia A. Relf and Doris A. Dirks, Cincinnati Enquirer

Restrictive abortion bills prompt a worthwhile conversation over how we define a life

"The 'heartbeat bills' are wholesome provocations: One of their aims is to provoke thinking about the moral dimension of extinguishing a being with a visibly beating heart." — George Will, The Inquirer

It's unrealistic to expect abortions to take place within six weeks of conception

"Most abortions take place after the six-week mark for a number of reasons, including not yet knowing you’re pregnant, the financial setback of paying for the procedure, and the time and cost to travel to a clinic, according to experts in the field." — Gary Chapman, Atlanta Magazine

Abortion restrictions violate women's autonomy over their bodies

"For the government to force women to have babies they don’t want is no more legitimate than it would be to force expectant mothers to have abortions they don’t want." — Steve Chapman, Chicago Tribune

"Heartbeat" bills are manipulative and medically inaccurate

"'Heartbeat' is a bit is a bit of a misnomer, since the cardiac activity that is first detected in an embryo is not a heartbeat by any stretch of the imagination; what is first observed is the pulsing of cells that are specializing and will eventually become a heart. At this point in the pregnancy, the fetus has no brain and no face." — Moira Donegan, The Guardian

The bills show an open disregard for the health and safety of women

"Those right-wing men who are primarily responsible for passing these antiquated bills don’t give two cents about a woman’s womb or the unwanted and uncared for children who come out of those wombs." Dahleen Glanton, Chicago Tribune

Religious legislators believe abortion is a gross injustice

"Conservative lawmakers...point to the Holocaust, Joseph Stalin’s Soviet gulags, the Rwandan genocide, and other slaughters, arguing that the number of lives taken in those horrific crimes are small compared with the alleged '50 million babies [that] have been aborted in the United States since the Roe decision in 1973.'" Emma Green, The Atlantic

Restricting abortion is a political miscalculation that may backfire

"There is plenty of evidence that citizens of conservative states are, to some extent, actually protective of abortion rights. It may not be something they proclaim in their offices, at church, or to pollsters — but their secret beliefs can become quite evident once they enter the voting booth. This should make the legislators who passed the new bills very nervous." — Jole Mathis, The Week

It's time for the Supreme Court to settle the abortion debate

"For two generations the Roe decision has distorted American politics...It’s worth knowing where the justices stand, and either way a decisive ruling has the potential to deescalate national politics for a generation." — David French, National Review

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