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Abortion Bans Have Passed in 7 States This Year, Seeking to Challenge Roe

Alabama legislators on Tuesday voted to ban abortions in nearly all cases, making the state the seventh this year to pass abortion restrictions that could challenge the constitutional right established in Roe v. Wade.

Alabama’s bill is the first outright ban on abortion; other measures limited the procedure to earlier in pregnancy. Here is how limits on abortion have changed across the states this year:

Georgia, Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio stopped short of outright bans, instead passing so-called heartbeat bills that effectively prohibit abortions after six weeks of pregnancy, when doctors can usually start detecting a fetal heartbeat. Utah and Arkansas voted to limit the procedure to the middle of the second trimester.

Most other states follow the standard set by the Supreme Court’s Roe decision in 1973, which says abortion is legal until the fetus reaches viability, usually at 24 to 28 weeks.

The latest bans are not yet in effect (Kentucky’s was blocked by a judge), and all are expected to face lengthy court battles — indeed, their proponents are hoping they will reach the Supreme Court.

“Some sponsors evidently want to set up a test case to challenge Roe v. Wade,” said Clarke D. Forsythe, a lawyer for Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion advocacy group.

In recent years, Republican legislators successfully pushed bills to restrict abortion by targeting providers, for example through mandating waiting periods for patients or hospital admitting privileges for doctors. Many states limited the procedure to 22 weeks, but until this year, six-week bans were largely seen as too extreme; two that passed, in Iowa and North Dakota, were later struck down in court.

Abortion rights advocates say limiting the procedure to before six weeks in pregnancy is effectively a complete ban, since most people do not learn they are pregnant until later.

Two states that previously tried complete abortion bans saw those measures blocked: A 2006 bill in South Dakota was repealed in a referendum, and a 2016 Oklahoma bill was vetoed by the governor.

States that have introduced complete abortion bans

States that have introduced six-week abortion bans

Note: Some states introduced more than one abortion ban in a given year.

But 2019 is different, advocates on both sides said. Abortion opponents saw the appointment of Justice Brett M. Kavanaugh last year as tipping the balance of the court in their favor, and state legislators were energized to pass more aggresive anti-abortion legislation.

“The appointment of Kavaugh focused legislators across the country on abortion,” said Elizabeth Nash, a state policy analyst at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights. “It focused conservative legislators to pass abortion restrictions that they hope will be challenged and end up before the court, so the court can undermine or overturn abortion rights.”

“It is also focused progressive legislators like those in New York to pass laws that protect abortion rights in their own states,” she added. In January, New York enacted a measure that guarantees a “fundamental right” to abortion in the state.

All this means Alabama will not be the last state to attempt to challenge Roe. Bills seeking six-week abortion bans are currently on the state senate floors in Louisiana and Missouri, and similar measures have been proposed in several more states.

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