The First Post-Election Threats To Abortion Access Are Already Here

The proposed bills give a terrifying taste of what’s to come.
Chip Somodevilla via Getty Images

Less than a week after Donald Trump was elected president, Texas Republicans filed two bills that would gut abortion rights in the state.

One would require that all fetal remains be buried or cremated ― essentially, a state-mandated fetal funeral (and a regulation that Vice President-elect Mike Pence signed into law in his home state before a federal judge blocked it from going into effect last summer).

The other would make it illegal for women to terminate a pregnancy after 20-weeks in the case of severe fetal abnormalities.

Combined, the two bills not only send a clear message that abortion rights will be a target in Texas in the coming legislative session this winter; they also offer a taste of what may be on the horizon nationally, as anti-choice legislators across the country ― emboldened by a Trump-Pence administration ― sense an opportunity to chisel away at abortion access.

“Donald Trump and Mike Pence are going to be in office with a solid Republican-controlled legislature,” said James Owens, states communications director for the advocacy group NARAL Pro-Choice America. “I certainly expect to see a lot more anti-choice measures introduced in the coming session.”

Although Trump has flip-flopped on abortion, he has formed a so-called “pro-life coalition,” and Pence has been a vocal, committed opponent to abortion rights.

The fight against reproductive access isn’t gearing up in Texas alone. As the IndyStar reports, in Indiana on Wednesday, state representative Curt Nisly announced his intent to propose a total abortion ban in that state when the General Assembly convenes in January.

“My position is that the Supreme Court is wrong with Roe v. Wade,” he said. “And they don’t have jurisdiction in this manner.”

In Pennsylvania’s state senate, legislators tried to quietly vote through a bill this week that would enact a ban on any abortions past 20 weeks, though it was ultimately tabled and no votes were taken.

Of course in many ways, these proposed restrictions are the norm.

“Every year, we see hundreds of anti-choice bills introduced ― in blue states, red states; good years for Democrats, bad years for Democrats. Last year, there were more than 400 anti-choice bills introduced across the country with varying degrees of success,” said Owens.

The Guttmacher Institute reports that the last five years saw more abortion restrictions enacted than any other five-year period since the passage of Roe v. Wade.

However, reproductive rights advocates continue to be heartened by the June Supreme Court decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt, which overturned a Texas law that required abortion providers to have admitting privileges at a local hospital and mandated that clinics meet the standards of a surgical center. Texas lawmakers argued that the restrictions were designed to protect women’s health, but the Supreme Court disagreed, saying they constituted an “undue burden” on women’s constitutional right to abortion services.

“The Supreme Court, not four months ago, reaffirmed more than four decades of precedent holding that women have a constitutional right to access abortion care,” said Stephanie Toti, a senior counsel with The Center for Reproductive Rights. Although reproductive health advocates across the country are anticipating what she described as an “onslaught” of new restrictions, Toti emphasized that the recent election has not altered the precedent set by the recent Supreme Court decision ― for now.

Owens was less sanguine, citing the prospect of multiple Trump appointments to the Supreme Court. Ruth Bader Ginsburg ― the Supreme Court’s oldest justice, and a longtime defender of women’s rights ― is 83. Stephen Breyer is 78.

“A lot of people viewed Whole Women’s Health as ‘safe’ over the next four years, because they thought Hillary would win and replace Scalia’s spot with someone who would be receptive to defending reproductive rights,” Owens said. “It didn’t invalidate every abortion ban, but it was a very good, very strong step forward. Now, that progress is very much in jeopardy.”

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