Chipping Away At Roe: Arkansas And North Dakota Advance ‘Fetal Pain’ Abortion Bans

So far this year, GOP lawmakers in Arkansas and North Dakota have practically tripped over each other to see which state can introduce more anti-abortion legislation. Among other abortion restrictions, each state is currently advancing a “fetal pain” measure to outlaw abortion procedures after 20 weeks of pregnancy — based on the scientifically disputed notion that fetuses can feel pain at that point — despite the fact that similar laws have been blocked in court for running afoul of the reproductive rights granted under Roe v. Wade.

On Monday, state senators in both Arkansas and North Dakota approved 20-week abortion bans. Neither measure makes an exception for the health of the woman, despite the fact that women who seek late-term abortions often do so because they discover unexpected health issues or fatal fetal abnormalities. Arkansas’ measure does include narrow exceptions to allow abortion services in the cases of rape, incest, or to save the woman’s life — but North Dakota’s abortion ban doesn’t even make the narrowest exceptions for rape or incest.

Nebraska was the first state to pass a 20-week abortion ban under the specious logic that fetuses can feel pain during the second trimester of pregnancy. Since then, seven other states have passed similar laws, and two fetal pain measures in Georgia and Arizona are currently being blocked from taking effect.

But the possibility of an impending court challenge won’t stop anti-choice lawmakers who are insistent on slowly chipping away at women’s constitutional right to reproductive health services. Both Arkansas and North Dakota have also proposed more extreme abortion measures — a “heartbeat ban” in Arkansas that would outlaw abortion after just 12 weeks, and a “personhood” measure in North Dakota that could ban all abortions and even some forms of contraception — that go even further to circumvent Roe, which guarantees women’s right to a legal abortion until the point of viability, around 24 weeks of pregnancy.