Tuesday, March 2, 2021
By Fallon Parker (March 2, 2021)
In the wake of Amy Coney Barrett’s fast-tracked ascendance to the U.S. Supreme Court last fall, headlines have spotlighted the flurry of anti-abortion legislation making its way through state legislatures in anticipation of a receptive Supreme Court. However, in the four months since Barrett's confirmation, several states have introduced measures that would shore up reproductive rights and protect them against federal assault.
This legislation is vital given the conservative majority on the Supreme Court and the 17 pending abortion cases that could be argued before the court in 2022.
New Mexico made headlines on February 19th when state legislators voted to repeal a 1969 law that banned most abortions in the state after a failed 2019 attempt to rescind it. Although the statute has been dormant since 1973 when Roe v. Wade was decided, it could go back into effect if Roe is overturned. The statute mandated hospital board approval for medical termination of a pregnancy and restricted abortion to situations of incest, rape reported to the police, grave medical risks to the pregnant person, or indications of grave medical defects in the fetus. Governor Michelle Lujan Grisham (D) signed the repeal bill on February 26th, making it law as of that date.
In Minnesota, two Democratic state legislators, Representative Kelly Morrison, and Senator Jennifer McEwen, introduced the Protect Reproductive Options (PRO) Act on January 21st. The bill would establish the fundamental right of Minnesotans to make individual decisions about reproductive health care, including abortion; recognize a fundamental right to privacy with respect to personal reproductive decisions; and prevent the state from interfering with reproductive decisions. According to Rep. Morrison's press release, this legislation is in response to the nationwide attack on abortion rights and the possibility of a Supreme Court challenge to Roe. However, Minnesota’s state legislature is under split control, with Democrats controlling the House of Representatives and Republicans controlling the Senate, which makes it unlikely the legislation will pass.
In Virginia, after years of organizing, in 2019 Democrats gained control of both state chambers for the first time since 1996. The Senate quickly passed the Reproductive Health Protection Act in April of 2020 repealing a number of medically dubious restrictions on abortion. More recently, the Senate and House each passed a parallel bill to repeal the ban on abortion coverage for people on the state’s healthcare exchange. This legislation is expected to be signed by Governor Ralph Northam (D) in April. Similar bills mandating healthcare abortion coverage have recently been introduced in Arizona, Hawaii, California, and New Jersey, although only Virginia’s has been brought to a vote.
Massachusetts--a historically liberal state--acted quickly to codify abortion rights following Barrett’s appointment. In late 2020, the state legislature expanded access to abortion beyond 24 weeks in cases of fatal fetal anomalies, and lowered the age of consent from 18 to 16. Governor Charlie Baker (R) vetoed the bill, but the Massachusetts legislature easily overrode the veto by a vote of 107-46 in the House and 32-8 in the Senate making it law as of December 29, 2020.
Overall, since Barrett's confirmation, at least 13 states have introduced measures to protect the right to an abortion. As advocates face what could be a long battle over reproductive rights in federal courts, the importance of state-level organizing and the resulting legislation could prove paramount in the fight for abortion access. If a challenge to abortion reaches the Supreme Court, the disparity in abortion access among states could return the country to pre-Roe v. Wade conditions. If that happens, a pregnant person's access to reproductive choices will depend entirely on the political makeup and policy priorities of their state legislature.