Republicans pass numerous anti-abortion laws in red states ahead of Supreme Court decision

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Republicans in Florida, Oklahoma and Kentucky passed strict abortion laws this week, the latest in a wave of anti-abortion legislation being enacted across the country.

On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill set to go into effect July 1 banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, with no exceptions for rape or incest. The state previously allowed abortion up to 24 weeks into pregnancy.

“We are here today to protect life,” DeSantis said at the bill’s signing ceremony. “We are here today to defend those who can’t defend themselves.”

DeSantis is running for reelection and is seen as a possible GOP presidential candidate in 2024. Florida Democrats blasted his decision to sign the legislation, with U.S. Rep. Lois Frankel calling it “a dark day for Florida.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis speaks before a microphone.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Orlando on Feb. 24. (Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

“The personal decision about whether and when to bring a child into this world should be made by the pregnant individual, not their governor, local representative, or Member of Congress,” Frankel said in a statement.

It’s the third bill to become law this week. On Tuesday, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a law passed by the GOP-controlled Legislature that made it illegal to perform an abortion in the state except in medical emergencies, threatening those who do so with up to $100,000 in fines and 10 years in prison. Unless blocked by a court, like similar legislation passed previously in other states, the law will go into effect this summer.

"We want to choose life in Oklahoma. We do not want to allow abortions in the state of Oklahoma," Stitt said at a news conference for the bill’s signing.

The following day, Republicans in Kentucky’s state Legislature overrode a veto from Democratic Gov. Andy Beshear and implemented their own restrictions that abortion providers in the state say effectively outlaw the procedure there. The law bans abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy and does not provide exceptions for incest or rape.

GOP state Rep. Nancy Tate, one of the bill’s sponsors, said last month that there was value in bringing to term a pregnancy that resulted from rape, saying she did not want the “ultimate punishment of death for the child in the womb that is conceived from a heinous crime.”

Anti-abortion activists in front of the U.S. Supreme Court hold signs saying: Pray to End Abortion and I Regret My Abortion.
Anti-abortion activists in front of the U.S. Supreme Court on Jan. 22. (Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images)

Provisions in the law include making it illegal to mail abortion pills, tightening abortion access for minors and requiring the state to publish the names and addresses of all physicians who perform abortions. The law went into effect immediately and is already facing legal challenges from Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union.

Kentucky’s Republican attorney general, Daniel Cameron, said in a statement Thursday that his office would be defending the law.

The spate of laws come along with the expectation that the U.S. Supreme Court is set to overturn or at least weaken Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 ruling that legalized abortion nationwide, when it rules on a Mississippi abortion ban later this year. With conservatives controlling the court with a 6-3 majority, states have become bolder in passing legislation limiting access to the procedure.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, a think tank that supports abortion rights, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned as expected.

Mistie DelliCarpini-Tolman, state director of Planned Parenthood Alliance Advocates in Idaho, told Yahoo News last month that the laws being passed across the nation are the “culmination of a decade-long campaign by anti-abortion extremists to secure this conservative majority of the Supreme Court.”

Idaho Republicans passed their own abortion ban last month, with Gov. Brad Little signing it into law on March 23. The law bans abortion after six weeks — before many women know they’re pregnant — and would allow the mother, grandparents, siblings, aunts or uncles of either parent to sue medical personnel who provide an abortion up to four years after it takes place. While rapists and perpetrators of incest would not be able to sue, their family members would be.

“We heard in testimony in the committee; we heard in testimony here today that this will end many abortions in Idaho,” said the bill’s sponsor, Republican state Rep. Steven Harris, after it passed the House. “Let’s save some babies.”

Idaho Gov. Brad Little at a podium that reads: Advancing Behavioral Health.
Idaho Gov. Brad Little and state officials in Boise on April 5. (Keith Ridler/AP Photo)

Little, who is facing a GOP primary challenge from his right, expressed concern about that provision but signed the bill anyway. The bill is modeled on a Texas law passed last year that took effect in September and allows any private citizen to sue any other private citizen who aids in providing an abortion.

While the Idaho bill is being challenged in the courts, legal attempts to overturn it have failed at both the state and federal levels. The Idaho Supreme Court temporarily blocked the ban from going into effect last week as it sought briefs from both sides before making its final decision.

The White House has been critical of the measures. “Make no mistake: The actions today in Oklahoma are a part of a disturbing national trend attacking women’s rights, and the Biden administration will continue to stand with women in Oklahoma and across the country in the fight to defend their freedom to make their own choices about their futures,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Tuesday.

According to a February Yahoo News/YouGov poll, only 29% of Americans said Roe v. Wade should be overturned, while 51% said it should be upheld. Fifty-five percent of respondents said abortion is a constitutional right that women in all states should have some access to, versus 29% who said it's something individual states should be able to outlaw.

Democratic-controlled states are passing countermeasures to the new restrictions. In Oregon, a neighbor of Idaho, funding has been set aside for those traveling from out of state for the procedure. And in Maryland, the Democratic state Legislature overrode a veto from Republican Gov. Larry Hogan on a bill expanding access and requiring most insurance companies to cover the cost of abortions.

A number of states, including Washington, have enacted laws prohibiting legal action against those seeking or providing an abortion.