Activists preparing for 'an absolutely crazy year' in first full statehouse sessions since Supreme Court overturned Roe
By Jessica Schneider and Devan Cole, CNN
(CNN) -- Restricting abortion is at the top of the to-do list for many Republicans around the country as state legislatures gavel in for their first full session since the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.
"We're definitely preparing for an absolutely crazy year," said Ingrid Duran, the director of state legislation for the anti-abortion group National Right to Life Committee. Her group has tracked more than 200 bills related to abortion in the last year, and she expects that number to skyrocket.
"We can see maybe a 100% increase in states on both sides of the issue," Duran said.
Wyoming Republican state Rep. Rachel Rodriguez-Williams introduced a full abortion ban this week, with no exceptions for rape or incest.
The bill would ban all abortions -- including medication abortion -- except to save the life of the mother. It would also make performing an abortion a felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a $20,000 fine, though it specifically exempts women who have an abortion from being prosecuted. The bill also would allow women to sue providers who have performed an abortion on them.
"Every child's life is of equal worth, no matter how they were conceived," Rodriguez-Williams told CNN.
"The people of Wyoming, through their elected representatives, have made clear that they believe life is a human right and that women deserve real support," Rodriguez-Williams added. "My colleagues and I want to preserve the lives of the most vulnerable, while ensuring that women have real support."
Wyoming tried to ban abortion last year -- Republican Gov. Mark Gordon signed a trigger law set to take effect when the Supreme Court overturned Roe, but state courts have since blocked the ban.
The latest Wyoming bill is partly a result of a push from the anti-abortion lobbying group Americans United for Life. According to its general counsel Steven Aden, AUL provided the template for the Rodriguez-Williams bill, and Aden says more states are considering introducing similar legislation, though he would not disclose specifically which states.
"We expect the interest to begin to snowball as we go forward into the spring legislative sessions," Aden said. AUL has already doubled the size of its staff since the Supreme Court's decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women's Health Organization that overturned Roe came down last June.
Even more lawmakers in Republican-led states are expected to make a big push to limit abortion rights in the months ahead, since legislatures had limited time to act last summer. By the time the Supreme Court overruled Roe, nearly every state had already wrapped up its legislative session for the year, making it almost impossible for lawmakers to respond with legislation in the immediate wake of the ruling.
"It feels like we're really entering into a period of experimentation when it comes to the types of legislation we're going to be seeing," said Elizabeth Nash, who tracks state action on abortion for the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion rights research group. "Once they ban abortion and they're still seeing people accessing medication abortion, the question becomes, 'how can we limit access to medication abortion?' They're trying to build up a mountain of barriers for someone getting an abortion."
Twenty-two states are now solidly controlled by Republicans -- meaning they have majorities in their state legislature and control the governor's office. Seventeen states are all blue -- meaning Democrats control the state legislature and governor's office.
The split is highlighting a stark contrast in priorities: Republican-led states are leading their new sessions pushing bills that limit, or even eliminate, the right to abortions; Democratic-led states like Michigan are putting greater protections in place for women.
States poised to act
Advocates watching this year's sessions unfold are keeping a keen eye on four states in particular: Virginia, Nebraska, North Carolina and Florida, said Katie Glenn, the state policy director at Susan B. Anthony Pro-Life America.
Virginia Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin asked the state's lawmakers to "choose life" in his State of the Commonwealth address delivered last week on the first day of the state's legislative session.
"As we embark on the next 46 days, when it comes to unborn children, we can come together," Youngkin said, laying out his proposal to ban abortion after 15 weeks in the state. "It is clear, Virginians want fewer abortions, not more."
Under current law, Virginia allows abortions during the first two trimesters, up until about 26 weeks, and only allows the procedure in the third trimester if three doctors certify the mother's life or health are in serious jeopardy.
But the 15-week abortion ban, and other calls to ban abortion outright in the state, will face an uphill battle given the split in control at the legislative level: Democrats control the state Senate and Republicans control the House of Delegates. This week, for instance, Democrats passed the Contraceptive Equity Act out of a Senate committee. The bill would require insurance companies to cover the price of birth control without cost sharing.
Nebraska Republicans introduced the Nebraska Heartbeat Act this week -- a bill that would ban abortions around six weeks, when embryonic cardiac activity is detected. The ban would provide exceptions for medical emergencies, and would not apply in cases of rape or incest.
The state's lawmakers failed to approve a trigger law that would have automatically banned abortion after the Dobbs decision last summer, but Glenn said the state's new anti-abortion governor is likely providing the greatest impetus for this latest attempt to restrict abortion.
"There is a definitely a lot of political will and interest in passing more protective laws," Glenn said.
Nebraska currently allows abortions up until 20 weeks, but Gov. Jim Pillen said during his campaign that completely banning abortion in the state would be a "top priority" of his administration and he vowed to do everything in his power to protect the unborn.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed the state's 15-week abortion ban into law in April, but lawmakers there are saying they're ready to go further.
Republicans won supermajorities in Florida's legislature in the midterms, and state Senate President Kathleen Passidomo told reporters there will be an avalanche of bills filed to restrict abortion even more. Passidomo is already advocating support for a 12-week ban with exceptions for victims of rape and incest, citing the fact that 80% of all abortions in the states are performed in the first 12 weeks.
The leaders of North Carolina's House and Senate promised greater abortion restrictions even before Republicans secured majorities in the midterms.
In a statement released after the Dobbs decision in June, state House Speaker Tim Moore said, "North Carolinians can also expect pro-life protections to be a top priority of the legislature when we return to our normal legislative session in January." State Senate Leader Phil Berger echoed the sentiment with his own statement, saying he remained "committed to the right to life and protecting the unborn."
But lacking a veto-proof majority in the North Carolina House, GOP efforts to further restrict the procedure will likely be undermined by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper, who has previously said he'll use his veto power to preserve existing protections in the state, which currently allows abortions up until 20 weeks.
The first effort to push the envelope could unfold in South Carolina, where the state's Supreme Court recently ruled that the state's six-week abortion ban violated the state Constitution. The ban is struck down, and since it can't be appealed to the US Supreme Court because it doesn't involve federal law, the only option is for state lawmakers to draft a new law. South Carolina Supreme Court Justice Kaye Hearn wrote the majority opinion, which left the door open for future restrictions as long as the "time frames imposed ... afford a woman sufficient time to determine she is pregnant and to take reasonable steps to terminate that pregnancy."
Republicans responded immediately, promising they'd go back to the drawing board to draft new abortion restrictions that might pass muster if they're challenged up to the state's Supreme Court again. Republican Gov. Henry McMaster promised he would "work with the General Assembly to correct this error," and state Attorney General Alan Wilson noted his office would work with the "Governor's office and legislature to review all our available options moving forward."
Democrats pushing back
Democrats aren't standing by. While Republicans are introducing abortion restrictions or even all-out bans, Democrats are looking for ways to bolster protections for women, and in some cases protect abortion in the long-term.
Michigan Democrats -- who now control the governor's office and the state legislature for the first time in four decades -- are emboldened after big wins in November, and the approval from voters of a ballot proposal that enshrined abortion rights in the state's constitution.
Michigan state Senate Leader Winnie Brinks told CNN one of the first priorities will be to repeal a 1931 abortion ban that has long been on the books but was put back in play after the Supreme Court overturned Roe. A state court blocked the law in September, but Democrats are still looking to fully repeal it this session.
"We're definitely going to take that law off the books," Brinks said. "It'll be early in our session."
In Maryland -- which Democrats completely control after increasing their supermajority and electing a Democratic governor -- lawmakers are also working to shore up protections for the procedure.
Maryland House Speaker Adrienne Jones wants to enshrine the right to abortion into the state constitution -- she plans to reintroduce a bill that would put a constitutional amendment question on the ballot in 2024.
"Body autonomy should never be up for debate," Jones told CNN. "This year, we're passing legislation guaranteeing that women's reproductive health care is never bargained for and that abortion providers and patients are protected. Maryland will be a safe haven for reproductive liberty."
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