Roe v. Everyone: States take on abortion

March 28, 2013

An anti-abortion sign is seen during the Ninth Annual Walk for Life West Coast rally in San Francisco, California, January 26, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

Nearly six months after an election that underscored the political divide over abortion, North Dakota’s governor enacted a law that bans abortions in most cases once a fetal heartbeat can be detected, or as early as six weeks. It is the most restrictive abortion law in the United States.

The North Dakota law has  plenty of company. In 2011 and 2012, U.S. states passed more than 130 restrictions on abortion, according to abortion rights group the Guttmacher Institute. Among those provisions are fetal heartbeat laws like North Dakota’s, as well as “fetal pain” laws, which make abortion illegal after 20 weeks based on controversial research that suggests a fetus can experience pain at that time. Ten states have passed such laws in recent years. (Roe v. Wade allowed the right to abortion services until a medically accepted point of viability, to be determined by the doctor, and generally considered 22-24 weeks.)

Politicians in these states argue that their measures are intended to protect women’s health, make abortion procedures more safe and curtail abortions provided for spurious reasons like the fetus’ gender or race. Many also argue, as North Dakota Governor Jack Dalrymple did this week, that state legislatures have a “legislative right to find out if these laws can stand.”

Below are seven states that have added provisions, restrictions or caveats on how and when women can get abortions. This is by no means a comprehensive list, and many of these bills are being replicated in states not listed below. Most of these provisions are mired in appeals.

In February, the Alabama House of Representatives passed The Women’s Health and Safety Act, which says that an Alabama-licensed physician must be present at every abortion, and that those doctors have admitting privileges at local hospitals. Supporters of the Alabama bill, which needs Senate approval and Governor Robert Bentley’s signature, say it ensures women’s safety. Representative Mary Sue McClurkin, a Republican who sponsored the legislation, said the Act “protects the right of a woman having an abortion to have it in a safe and healthy environment.” But critics argue that hospitals often refuse admitting privileges to abortion doctors solely because they perform abortions, and a proposed amendment that would have prohibited such denials was voted down. One of 10 states with fetal pain laws, Alabama also bans abortions after 20 weeks—with exceptions for the health of the mother—and requires an ultrasound and counseling before an abortion procedure.

In 2011, Governor Jan Brewer signed into law a bill that made Arizona the first U.S. state to outlaw abortions performed on the basis of the race or gender of the fetus. Backers of the measure said the bill would eliminate sex- and race-related discrimination, while critics denounced it for forcing women to publicly state their reason for terminating a pregnancy. In April 2012, Arizona passed the Women’s Health and Safety Act, which prohibits abortions once 20 weeks have passed since a woman’s last menstrual period, or about 18 weeks after fertilization (and with exceptions in cases where the life of the mother is at risk). The Center for Reproductive Rights and the ACLU sued to stop that law, but a judge upheld it. An appeal by the CRR is slated for resolution this year. Arizona also requires pre-abortion ultrasounds and counseling; both must occur at least 24 hours in advance of the procedure. In May of last year, the state also banned abortion providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving state funds.

The Human Heartbeat Protection Act, which would ban nearly all abortions after 12 weeks, was approved this month by Arkansas’ Republican-controlled House and Senate, which collectively overruled a veto from Democratic Governor Mike Beebe. Slated to go into effect this summer, the law would ban most abortions once a fetal heartbeat can be detected by a standard ultrasound, with exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother and major fetal conditions. The Heartbeat Protection Act comes on the heels of an Arkansas law that took effect in February, which bans most abortions after 20 weeks. Beebe, whose veto was overridden on the 20-week ban as well, called the latest measure “blatantly unconstitutional,” and the ACLU of Arkansas and the Center for Reproductive Rights say they will challenge the law in federal court. Should Arkansas lose that challenge, it will have to pay all legal fees in the case. Rep. Anne Clemmer told CNN that “protecting unborn children is … an important way to spend state resources.”

Earlier this month, Idaho became the first state to have its fetal pain law—banning abortions after 20 weeks—struck down by the federal courts. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill ruled in favor of Jennie Linn McCormack, an Idaho resident who sued over the law after she was charged with a felony for obtaining an illegal abortion. Winmill also ruled against a handful of other Idaho abortion provisions. One would have required first-trimester abortions be performed by a physician in a staffed office or clinic (limiting drug-induced abortions). Another would have required that  second-trimester abortions be performed in a hospital, and a third would have criminalized the woman (as opposed to the doctor) in certain cases for undergoing the procedure. Revised bills aimed at bringing Idaho’s abortion laws in line with Winmill’s decision have stalled in the state Senate.

Kansas’ anti-abortion bill is back in the state legislature after failing to pass last session. Now revived and approved by the House, the bill is expected to pass in the Senate, and Governor Sam Brownback is expected to sign it. The bill would eliminate abortions as a tax-deductible health care expense, require doctors to provide women with information about abortion risks, and implement a “personhood” clause that defines life as beginning at fertilization.  “While that won’t save any babies today or tomorrow or the day after this bill is hopefully signed, what it will do, I hope, is help set the context on more substantive restrictions in the future,” Kansas House Judiciary Committee Chairman Lance Kinzer said during debate on the bill. It does not include exceptions for victims of rape or incest, and also prohibits anyone who works for an abortion provider from also working in a school. It also comes on top of Kansas’ 2011-enacted fetal pain law, which bans abortions after 21 weeks.

Governor Jack Dalrymple earlier this week signed into law a bill banning abortion once a fetal heartbeat can be detected using “standard medical practice.” (The law doesn’t elaborate there, but fetal heartbeats are detectable at about six weeks using a transvaginal ultrasound, or 10-12 weeks with a standard abdominal ultrasound.) North Dakota’s bill provides exceptions for the health of the mother, but none for rape, and doctors performing an abortion after a heartbeat is detected could face a felony charge punishable by up to five years in prison and a $5,000 fine. The Center for Reproductive Rights said it plans to file a legal challenge to the law before it takes effect on Aug. 1. Also this week, Dalrymple signed a bill that bans abortions based solely on genetic abnormalities—making North Dakota the first state to enact such a law—and another that requires abortion doctors to obtain admitting privileges from local hospitals. The House also passed a “personhood” bill that would amend the state’s constitution to give legal rights and protections to human embryos. That measure, whose scope some doctors say could extend to in-vitro fertilization and stem-cell research, will likely go to North Dakota voters in 2014.

During a press conference last year, Governor Rick Perry said his goal “is to make abortion, at any stage, a thing of the past.” To date, the state has aimed for that goal by enacting measures to inform potential abortion recipients of the risks. Texas requires women seeking abortions to have a sonogram at least 24 hours before the procedure, and the doctor performing the sonogram must display the image of the fetus, make the heartbeat audible, and verbally describe the sonogram result. Perry—whose exclusion of Planned Parenthood from the state’s women’s health program was approved by a judge last yearhas also voiced support for banning all abortions after 20 weeks. Most recently, Texas’ Senate Bill 537 would regulate abortion clinics as if they were ambulatory care centers. Such laws—dubbed TRAP, for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers—mandate building specifications like hallway width and pipelines for general anesthesia. Also on the horizon in Texas: measures that would require abortion providers to collect more information on patients, and provisions that would restrict medical abortions.


We welcome comments that advance the story through relevant opinion, anecdotes, links and data. If you see a comment that you believe is irrelevant or inappropriate, you can flag it to our editors by using the report abuse links. Views expressed in the comments do not represent those of Reuters. For more information on our comment policy, see

Republican leaders like Rick Perry want to ban any abortion as an abomination against the sanctity of life, yet endorse the liberal application of the death penalty as a sentencing guideline.

Posted by SanPa | Report as abusive

The abortion issue demonstrates what happens when issues are legislated through the courts. Gay marriage proponents should be aware that if the courts declare gay marriage legal, that 40 years from now legislatures will still be looking for a way to outlaw it.

Racial minorities are still complaining about discriminatory attitudes.

It is impossible to force people to agree with you.

Posted by Yaakovweeeeeee | Report as abusive

Why is it legally easier to control women’s bodies than it is to control guns? Guns take innocent lives, yet the “pro-lifers” don’t seem to care. Illegal wars take innocent lives, yet the “pro-lifers” don’t seem to care. Poverty takes innocent lives, yet the pro-lifers don’t give a damn. Their game isn’t really about life at all–it’s about power and control over women.

Posted by cautious123 | Report as abusive

@SanPa…similarly, liberals cheer equality of gay marriage and the science behind global warming but refuse to acknowledge the science behind the person hood of a fetus and the equality that everyone should have the right to life.

Abortion, like most issues, should be left up to the states.

Posted by jaham | Report as abusive

Spot on yakoweee; even Ginsburg has stated that the court acting prematurely on roe v wade has retarded the whole process hence.

Posted by jaham | Report as abusive

The restrictions have nothing to do with protecting the woman’s health, but everything to do with controlling the woman’s body.

If the sanctity of life and the child was so important, the State would have plenty of services available for the mother and child. They don’t. And their health measures for their citizens would rank among the top. They don’t.

It is GOP religious zealots imposing their religious values on others. The party of small government becomes the one with the most intrusive measures to invade the woman.

And Texas is taking action to make sure more and more unwanted children will be born. What are their plans to take care of them? They have none.

For the GOP, pro-life really means pro-fetus, since once the child is born, not their problem.

Posted by pavoter1946 | Report as abusive

It still takes two to tango. Life and death decisions should not be left to one parent. Roe vs Wade violated the equal protection principle and is itself unconstitutional. If an abortion is to take place, say for legitimate medical reasons, the decision should be between both parents and a doctor, not a single parent acting alone. North Dakota just passed a new law that cites detection of sounds of a heartbeat as a stop sign for any who would deprive a human being of rights to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Sounds like a move in the right direction.

Posted by myface0094 | Report as abusive

The right want to control women’s bodies, but have nothing substantive to enforce deadbeat fathers, or divorced fathers, to take care of those children. When someone can tell me that the state, the federal government (whomever) is going to enforce parental support, including insurance, education, etc., or else send them to jail, then I’ll listen. Until then – leave women alone.

As others have commented, the right wing zealots feel all warm and fuzzy about “protecting the fetus” but feel positively gleeful about sending thousands or more of our young men and women into war as a badge of pride. When a young man or woman can say, “No, I don’t want to go into battle” and that wish is respected by the government, I’ll listen. Until then – stay out of the abortion issue.

Until birth control is inexpensive and readily available without a prescription, stay out of it.

If they want/need a majority vote, stand back and watch. A majority vote they’ll get!

Posted by JL4 | Report as abusive