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Republican Lawmakers Across The Country Push For Abortion Restrictions


Republicans picked up seats in statehouses across the country in November. And now, they are using those gains to push new abortion restrictions, some of which resemble laws previously blocked by the courts. NPR's Sarah McCammon reports.

SARAH MCCAMMON, BYLINE: In the last couple of years, federal courts have repeatedly struck down early abortion bans in Ohio, Georgia, Alabama and elsewhere. But this year, Republican lawmakers in South Carolina were undeterred.


KATRINA SHEALY: This bill protects the life of the unborn with a heartbeat.

LARRY GROOMS: This is a sensitive issue. This is a controversial issue. But it shouldn't be. But it is.

MCCAMMON: Those voices were South Carolina Republican Senators Katrina Shealy and Larry Grooms during debate over a bill prohibiting most abortions after cardiac activity can be detected. That's often about six weeks into a pregnancy. Republicans were able to pass the bill after picking up several seats in the November election.

Almost as soon as Republican Governor Henry McMaster signed the law, a federal judge blocked it. A court hearing is scheduled for Monday.

Bonyen Lee-Gilmore is Planned Parenthood state media director. She says Republican gains in several state legislatures have set up a renewed battle over abortion rights.

BONYEN LEE-GILMORE: It is a very odd time where there is so much hope and opportunity with the Biden administration, pro-reproductive health majorities in Congress, yet incredibly extreme, hostile anti-reproductive health care majorities in state legislatures.

MCCAMMON: A new analysis from the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights, reports an unusually busy year for anti-abortion legislation, with more than 300 proposed restrictions. Katie Glenn, with the anti-abortion rights group Americans United For Life, points to Republican gains in New Hampshire and Montana, where lawmakers have proposed restrictions on procedures performed later in pregnancy.

KATIE GLENN: You know, we've seen some really positive trends.

MCCAMMON: Glenn also says there are new efforts to restrict medication abortion, particularly via telehealth, which has become more popular during the pandemic. Ohio recently banned the use of telehealth for abortion. And Glenn says some states are considering new rules for doctors prescribing abortion pills.

GLENN: They can give the woman the information she needs so that she's making a fully informed decision and she understands that this is a multiday process at her home.

MCCAMMON: In Arkansas, lawmakers have approved a new requirement that patients call a counseling hotline before an abortion. At least two other states - Texas and Tennessee - are considering similar proposals. Tennessee lawmakers also have proposed an unusual bill that would give a man who impregnates a woman the ability to stop her from having an abortion.

Mary Ziegler, a law professor at Florida State University, says the confirmation of Supreme Court Justice Amy Coney Barrett appears to be triggering an onslaught of deeply restrictive abortion bills, including ones that courts already have said are unconstitutional under the landmark Roe v. Wade decision.

MARY ZIEGLER: I think now, some red state lawmakers are looking at this and thinking, well, surely, you know, there will be five votes to overturn Roe among those six conservatives.

MCCAMMON: Meanwhile, some states are pushing in the other direction, working to guarantee abortion rights. New Mexico recently repealed decades-old restrictions that were still on the books, anticipating that the federal courts may chip away at those rights in the years to come.

Sarah McCammon, NPR News, Washington.

(SOUNDBITE OF EL TEN ELEVEN'S "FANSHAWE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Sarah McCammon
Sarah McCammon is a National Correspondent covering the Mid-Atlantic and Southeast for NPR. Her work focuses on political, social and cultural divides in America, including abortion and reproductive rights, and the intersections of politics and religion. She's also a frequent guest host for NPR news magazines, podcasts and special coverage.