Pro-choice legislatures and governors in at least four states have responded to the wave of pro-life state laws this year with expansions of abortion rights.
Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed into law June 19 a bill that protects the right to abortion until the moment of birth. Her action followed the enactment of other laws striking down abortion restrictions in Illinois, Maine and Vermont.
A Southern Baptist pro-life leader expressed grief over the new abortion laws.
“Abortion is a tragedy, and the new laws in Illinois, Rhode Island, Maine and Vermont are lamentable,” said Chelsea Patterson Sobolik, policy director for the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “The abortion industry marches on to change the narrative from safe, legal and rare to easy, anytime and taxpayer-funded.
“As Christians, we should be characterized by compassion, humility and love even in the face of a confused culture that advances death by claiming choice,” Sobolik told Baptist Press in written comments. “In fact, we should be the most hopeful people because we know that the story of history ends with Jesus on the throne. Until then, however, we will continue working toward that day where abortion is unthinkable because women have every type of resource they need and all children are cherished.”
The state measures to expand abortion rights came after several states enacted bans in 2019 on abortion early in pregnancy.
Alabama’s ban on abortion throughout pregnancy except in the case of “a serious health risk to the unborn child’s mother” became law in mid-May. Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Mississippi and Ohio have enacted bans on abortion when a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as early as six to eight weeks. Missouri has approved a prohibition on abortion after eight weeks of gestation. Arkansas and Utah have enacted abortion bans after 18 weeks.
The flurry of abortion-related legislation in the states comes as abortion rights advocates issue warnings about a U.S. Supreme Court that has apparently become more conservative with the confirmation of two nominees by President Trump. They fear the current court could overturn the 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which struck down all state abortion bans and legalized the procedure throughout the country.
Meanwhile, pro-life legislators are seeking to enact further protections for unborn children and women considering abortion that will be found acceptable by the high court and possibly lead to Roe’s reversal.
New York started the state efforts this year to expand abortion rights by enacting a law in January that not only legalizes abortion until the moment of birth but permits the death of babies who survive the procedure, according to Americans United for Life (AUL).
Some of the states that have approved abortion-expansive measures recently have appeared to be in competition to have the most extreme law in the country, pro-life leaders said.
Illinois’ legislation – signed June 12 by Gov. JB Pritzker – is more radical even than New York’s law, said Jill Stanek, the Susan B. Anthony List’s national campaign chair. Vermont’s measure, signed June 10 by Gov. Phil Scott, “may well be the most radical anti-life law in the nation,” said Sharon Toborg, policy analyst for Vermont Right to Life (VRL).
Among the provisions in the new abortion rights laws:
Rhode Island’s law not only extends the right to abortion to the time of birth but rescinds the state’s ban on the gruesome procedure known as partial-birth abortion, according to AUL.
Illinois’ measure makes abortion a “fundamental right,” legalizes dismemberment abortions, eliminates licensing requirements for clinics and halts health and safety inspections, the Thomas More Society said.
Vermont’s law essentially expands the right to abortion until the moment of birth, AUL has said, and empowers abortion providers to sue the state if they are not permitted to open a practice, according to VRL.
Maine’s measure, signed into law June 10 by Gov. Janet Mills, enables non-doctors – including nurse practitioners and physician assistants – to perform abortions.
Raimondo, Pritzker and Mills are Democrats. Scott is a Republican.
Pritzker addressed the preventive nature of Illinois’ new law in his defense of signing it.
“The Reproductive Health Act ensures that women’s rights in Illinois do not hinge on the fate of Roe v. Wade, or the whims of an increasingly conservative Supreme Court,” he said in a written statement.
Other states to enact pro-life laws in 2019 include Indiana, North Dakota, Oklahoma and South Dakota.
The Supreme Court affirmed Roe v. Wade in a 1992 opinion but also ruled states may regulate abortion to protect the lives and health of women.
(EDITOR’S NOTE – Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press, the Southern Baptist Convention’s news service.)