Republicans claimed Supreme Court simply returned abortion laws to states – but are now pushing ‘fetal personhood’ in Congress

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Republicans argue that the US Supreme Court’s decision to revoke the constitutional right to abortion care merely returned that decision back to the states.

But GOP lawmakers across the US and in Congess are advancing the issue of “fetal personhood,” asserting that fetuses, embryos and fertilized eggs have full protections under the law, while congressional Democrats warn that Republicans are pursuing a nationwide ban on abortion care.

Republican US Rep Fred Keller told the House Judiciary Committee that the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which struck down constitutional protections affirmed by Roe v Wade, “simply took abortion and said the states will determine the laws that will cover that within those state borders.”

Erin Hawley, wife of Republican Senator Josh Hawley and senior counsel of conservative Christian legal group Alliance for Defending Freedom, replied saying that the court’s decision reflected “judicial modesty”.

“It corrected a 50-year error and returned it to the people and the people’s elected representatives,” she said.

Ms Hawley worked on the case at the centre of the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down abortion rights, previously calling it “the project of a lifetime.”

Republican US Rep Jody Hice also asked the House committee’s witness panel whether there is “any instance of a woman giving birth to something that is not a human being, a baby, like, I don’t know, a turtle … or a breakfast taco.”

“It’s a question of personhood. That’s what I’m getting to,” he said. “And there is not an instance that I’m aware of of anyone giving birth to something other than a person. So if it is a person after birth, it by extension is that person before birth.”

Republican US Rep Ralph Norman also asked the panel whether they “agree with infanticide”, equating abortion care to murder and reviving false right-wing claims that elective abortions are performed the moment a child is born.

“Based on your question, you have a very low opinion of pregnant people,” said Georgia state Rep Renitta Shannon.

“Nobody would carry a pregnancy and decide on a Monday that they would have an abortion because they’re bored. That’s ridiculous,” she said. “You’re talking about families in tough situations, where folks have been excited about having a pregnancy. Most abortions that happen later in pregnancies are really tragedies where it’s really a disappointment for everyone involved.”

In response, Rep Norman said: “I take it with all those words you do agree with basically murdering a child after they’re born.”

This week, a federal judge in Arizona struck down Arizona’s fetal personhood law. Meanwhile, a state lawmaker in Ohio introduced a bill granting full constitutional rights to “unborn human individuals from the moment of conception”.

A wide majority of Americans disagree with the Supreme Court’s decision ending nearly a half-century of protections for abortion care. Following the ruling, at least nine states – Alabama, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Dakota, Texas, West Virginia, and Wisconsin – have outlawed abortion entirely in nearly all instances.

As many as 26 states could outlaw abortion without constitutional protections affirmed under Roe. Republican-led state legislatures are poised to draft more-restrictive laws in the coming weeks and months. At least six states have advanced fetal personhood statutes.

Michigan state Representative Mallory McMorrow told the committee that a long-dormant state law from 1931 – currently blocked by a court-issued injunction – would make providing abortion a felony, which no exceptions for pregnancies for rape or incest, and could lead to the prosecutions of abortion patients.

“The way the language is written, our attorney general has warned that the law could be interpreted to include a self-managed medication abortion, meaning that not only would doctors and medical professionals be sent to jail, but so too would countless women and girls,” she said.

Nearly 58 per cent of Michigan voters reject the Supreme Court’s decision, including more than 62 per cent of Michigan women. Abortion rights advocates in the state also have collected more than 750,000 signatures to place a constitutional amendment on November ballots that would let voters decide whether to guarantee rights to abortion, contraception and fertility treatments.

But Michigan’s Republican-dominated state legislature, aided by gerrymandered voter districts, have allowed the GOP to reject abortion rights legislation through “quite literally minority rule” in the state, according to Rep McMorrow.

In her opening remarks, committee chair Carolyn Maloney said “the goal of these right-wing extremists is clear: to control the bodies of women, girls and any person who can become pregnant.”

“Many of us have been warning about this day for years as states have steadily chipped away the right to abortion,” she said. “Republicans are not going to stop with Dobbs. They are openly planning to impose a national ban on abortion. The damage that would cause is inconceivable.”

Democratic US Rep Jamie Raskin condemned what he sees as a fragmented and unconstitutional state of health care, where access to abortion and whether providers face criminal prosecution varies along state or sometimes county lines.

“Can we endure half free-choice states and half theocratic-compelled pregnancy states? Is that going to work for America?” he said.

Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, said she is “deeply worried”.

“This is the first time in our nation’s history that the Supreme Court has taken away an individual right in the constitution, a right that two generations of people have come up with,” she said. “So now you have grandmothers looking at their grandchildren and understanding that they’re going to have fewer rights. It cannot stand.”