In the spring of 2019, a wave of anti-abortion laws swept through the country drawing ire and support in equal measure. Bills in Ohio, Missouri, Alabama, Georgia, and other states promised to crack down on both those who sought abortions and those who provided them. The bills, which promised to be the toughest restrictions since abortion was legalized in the landmark Roe vs. Wade case in 1973, were all signed into law but then subsequently blocked by district courts, effectively halting their implementation.
A new round of bills have been announced recently that take an even more hardline stance on abortion restrictions. In November, Ohio legislators introduced a new bill that, if signed into law, would be the single most restrictive abortion law in the country. Creating a new felony charge called “abortion murder” the new bill would call for life imprisonment of those who seek or perform abortions regardless of medical need.
“The time for regulating evil and compromise is over,” Candice Keller, a Republican in Ohio’s House of Representatives and a sponsor of the new bill, said in a statement. “The time has come to abolish abortion in its entirety and recognize that each individual has the inviolable and inalienable right to life.”
The bill also includes language that might require physicians to remove and reimplant ectopic pregnancies, despite there being no medical evidence that such a procedure would result in a live fetus. Ectopic pregnancies occur when embryos implant somewhere other than the uterus, typically the fallopian tubes, and are considered a life-threatening surgical emergency for the person carrying the pregnancy. “We have no evidence that an ectopic pregnancy may be transplanted into the uterus and continue to develop normally,” Daniel Grossman, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of California, San Francisco told the New York Times. “The process of implantation is complex—it’s not just like a plant. It’s not yet possible to disrupt an implanted pregnancy and transplant it from one location to another."
Other bills are not quite so overt in their attempt to curtail abortion access. Earlier this month, the U.S Supreme Court declined to hear arguments in the appeal of a law in Kentucky that requires people seeking abortions to submit to ultrasounds and hear the fetal heartbeat. Depending on gestation, this could mean patients would be subject to transvaginal ultrasounds as opposed to abdominal ultrasounds. Patients are allowed to cover their eyes and ears during the process, but doctors are required to describe the ultrasound image in detail. Practitioners who do not are subject to fines and could face disciplinary action from the state’s medical board.
Similarly, lawmakers in Pennsylvania recently introduced a bill that could mandates how fetal and embryonic tissues are handled. The “Pennsylvania Final Disposition of Fetal Remains Act"—or House Bill 1890—introduced in September, will change the definition of fetal death to mean death that occurs anytime after conception and require health care facilities to cremate or bury all fetal remains not claimed by parents. Remains are typically incinerated, which is less costly for providers. This new law would place financial stress on abortion providers which would then be relayed to patients in the form of increased cost for abortions, therefore limiting access to low-income people.
The Pennsylvania bill requires that a burial permit accompany each cremation or interment and a death certificate is required to obtain the burial permit. Death certificates would not only be required for miscarried or aborted fetuses and embryos, but also for fertilized eggs that failed to implant. It is unclear at present if the bill would require those who miscarry at home to preserve fetal tissues for burial or cremation and how it will impact those who did not realize they were pregnant at the time of an early miscarriage.
The bill would, however, subject anyone who miscarries or expels fetal tissue in a health care setting and does not file for a burial permit to a $50 to $300 fine or up to 30 days in jail.
Several new abortion bills are expected to hit their respective State House floors in early 2020 in the hope of taking advantage of Republican-controlled state Houses and Senates as well as the now Republican-dominated Supreme Court. While many of the earlier abortion bans are temporarily blocked by the courts, this new crop promises to draw people to the polls in droves this election year.