Last month Ohio Governor John Kasich made headlines as he vetoed the new bill passed by his state legislature that would have banned abortion at the point in which an embryonic heartbeat could be detected — about three or four weeks past the point of fertilization. While he bypassed that more extreme ban on abortion, he instead signed into law a bill that makes abortion illegal at 20 weeks.
That Ohio ban appears to be just the first one of many now that other states are heading into brand new legislative sessions.
For the last few years 20 week abortion bans have been a priority of the anti-abortion movement, who hope to use them to undermine the constitutional right to abortion prior to fetal viability that the Supreme Court ruled existed in the Roe v. Wade decision.
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The bills — most of which relied on an unscientifically supported claim that a fetus in utero can feel pain by at least 20 weeks post fertilization (or 22 weeks gestation) — spread like wildfire through many red states during the 2011 to 2015 legislative sessions, often in states where abortion wasn’t available at that point in a pregnancy anyway, leaving the restrictions unchallenged because there has been no one with the standing to take them to court.
Some of those who could challenge, such as Nebraska or Texas providers, stopped offering later procedures out of fear of conservative court rulings that could be used in a future Supreme Court case. Others, like Idaho, Arizona and Georgia, did challenge and got their laws ruled unconstitutional and had them blocked from being enforced.
But with President-elect Donald Trump about to enter the White House — and at least one new seat on the Supreme Court to fill with a far right justice — the anti-abortion movement is ready to keep pushing for a challenge. Ohio was just the first to head to the governor with a 20 week ban, and already two more state legislatures have announced plans to do the same.
In Virginia, a 20 week ban was recently pre-filed, signaling the likelihood that the General Assembly will take up a ban at some point during the 2017 session. But Governor Terry McAullife, a Democrat, has already warned the state GOP that there will be no ban on the books under his watch.
“Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe is promising to veto legislation banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, saying such a proposal hurts the state’s image,” the Associated Press reports. “McAuliffe, a Democrat, told The Associated Press on Tuesday that he wants to send a clear message to the Republican-controlled General Assembly not to ‘waste time’ with ‘socially divisive bills,’ such as the 20-week abortion ban.”
While Virginia may be yet another example of showboat legislation that will never make it into signed law, the same can’t be said for Kentucky, where another likely 20 week ban attempt has been announced. Unlike Virginia, Kentucky’s governor Matt Bevin has never met an abortion restriction he doesn’t approve of, and just since his November 2015 election the Republican politician has made closing clinics and ending abortion access a primary goal.
The Kentucky legislature has proposed this ban before, but because of a Democratic majority in the state house the bill has never progressed out of committee. That trend is expected to break this year, with Republican majorities now in both branches, and the bill is already being fast tracked to get it out for a vote.
Republican Robert Stivers, the senate President, told the Lexington Herald leader that, “his personal preference would be to ban abortions starting at a date before 20 weeks,” signaling his enthusiasm to get the bill underway. “This is my belief: there are two viable beings involved,” he told the paper. “One had a choice early on to make a decision to conceive or not. Once conception starts, another life is involved, and the legislature has the ability to determine how that life proceeds.”
A successful 20 week ban in Kentucky is likely not just to impact those in that state, but those seeking later abortion services from bordering states, too. With a 20 week ban poised to go into effect soon in Ohio, Kentucky will be the only place to obtain a later abortion for both those pregnant people and patients in Indiana, where abortion can only be obtained during the first trimester. Kentucky often also ends up being the closest provider for many in southern Illinois, where abortion is less restricted but there are no clinics in the south eastern part of the state.
Sadly, with many states only now swearing in new legislators and filing bills, Kentucky and Virginia won’t be the last states to propose this ban. And by the end of 2017 it will be highly likely that a federal version will be proposed, if not signed into law, by a President Trump. Until then, the anti-abortion movement will continue to stack as many states on their side as they can, in order to prep for the Supreme Court fight that probably is now unavoidable.