In First Month Of Legislative Session, GOP Lawmakers In Five States Seek To Eliminate, Criminalize Abortion

Last week, House Republicans launched an indefensible effort to redefine rape to exclude certain rape victims from abortion coverage. Rep. Joe Pitts (R-PA) then followed up with the Protect Life Act, a bill that would “give doctors the green light to let pregnant women die if they have a life-threatening condition and need an emergency abortion.”

Not to be outpaced by their federal, anti-women counterparts, GOP lawmakers in states across the country are ginning up woefully ignorant abortion measures to mandate their anti-choice views on doctors and women. Whether through forcing a woman to hear heartbeats or see sonograms, making up imaginary data on race and gender, nullifying the Supreme Court, or redefining the state constitution, lawmakers in Ohio, Texas, Arizona, Florida, and Iowa intend to make this year the year they win their war against reproductive rights by any means necessary:

— OHIO: State GOP Rep. Lynn Wachtmann will unveil the so-called “Heartbeat Bill” today, the “first proposal of its kind” that “would prohibit women from ending pregnancies at the first detectable fetal heartbeat,” which can be heard “within 18 to 24 days of conception” and “in almost all cases by six weeks.” As NARAL Ohio pointed out, this bill targets “a point when many women don’t even know they’re pregnant.” Crafted by the right-wing group Faith2Action, the bill is being advertised via “heart-shaped balloons” and “a music video” with “a few fetuses appearing to keep the beat from inside the womb.”

— TEXAS: This week, the Texas Senate will consider state Sen. Dan Patrick’s (R) anti-abortion measure mandating that “pregnant women be shown an ultrasound of the fetus at least two hours before an abortion.” Physicians would be required to show the fetus’ dimensions, presence of limbs or internal organs if applicable, and –if audible – the fetal heartbeat. Similar provisions failed in 2007 and 2009 but two weeks ago, Gov. Rick Perry (R-TX) “fast-tracked the sonogram bill by declaring it an emergency item” to allow early consideration. The bill’s author, state Sen. Dan Patrick (R) says the emergency designation is legitimate because “we have 80,000 abortions in Texas every year” and the emotional pain caused by this bill will inevitably compel “one out of five women” to bring the baby to term.

— ARIZONA: State GOP Rep. Steve Montenegro introduced two bills to criminalize abortions if they’re sought because of race or sex. The bill would slam doctors who “knowingly perform abortions for these reasons” with Class 3 felony charges. While neither Montenegro nor independent searches of state records provide support for his claims, Montenegro insists “that there are targeted communities that the abortion industry targets.” He even believes that “an abortion based on race would include situations where the parents are the same race as the fetus.” Arizona Department of Health Services does not collect information on fetus gender and only recently began asking about racial statistics. As of last week, Montenegro has yet to provide the “promised” statistics to support of his bills.

— FLORIDA: Ordained minister State Rep. Charles Van Zant (R-FL) recently introduced the Florida for Life Act, a bill that mimics Florida’s recent “fetal personhood” amendment which defines all human beings as persons “regardless of age, race, health function, condition of physical and/or mental dependency and/or disability.” The Florida for Life Act is “more overtly religious,” stating that “all life comes from the Creator and begins at conception.” The bill also states that the Supreme Court is unqualified to “determine, establish, or define the moral values” of Floridians and that the Constitution expresses no qualifications for states to “protect life in a manner consistent with the moral consensus of the people, and reflecting the peoples’ belief in a Creator.” The bill would not only prohibit induced abortions but would “punish abortion doctors as felons, should they violate the measures” of the bill.

— IOWA: Two Iowa Republican representatives are opposing a bill seeking to prohibit abortions after 20 weeks because “it doesn’t go far enough.” Because she feels the bill “would codify deaths of babies from zero to 19 weeks,” State Rep. Kim Pearson is “not willing” to support this legislation and will instead introduce her own bill “that would define life as beginning at conception” and effectively “end all abortions in Iowa.” GOP state Sen. Randy Feenstra is trying to push the marker with a bill to restrict abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. If all else fails, a resolution to amend the Iowa Constitution to “define a person as starting from a single-cell human embryo” is now pending in the Iowa House.

These measures are certainly not the first efforts by pro-life lawmakers to change state law. Last year, a Kansas GOP lawmaker proposed levying a sales tax on abortions. Perhaps inspiring Texas, Oklahoma overrode a veto last year to enforce an ultrasound mandate with “no exceptions for rape or incest.” And a fetal personhood amendment like the one in Florida appeared on the Colorado ballot in 2008 and 2010 but was “decisively defeated.”

But the state-level efforts right out of the gate in 2011 implies a renewed motivation to blindly pre-determine what is already a difficult and deeply personal choice. A recent NARAL report counts a total of 15 states with anti-choice governments. Arizona has already introduced a “heartbeat” bill similar to Ohio and Texas, Georgia, and Oklahoma are watching its progress “closely.” With concerted attack on reproductive health coming both from the federal and state level, the GOP may just walk women’s rights all the way back before the Supreme Court protected them in 1973.