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Pro-life bills meet divergent fates with governors

WASHINGTON, D.C. (BP) – The efforts of state legislatures to protect unborn and born babies are experiencing different fates at governors' desks.

Photo by Edward Cisneros on Unsplash

Governors in Indiana, Oklahoma, North Dakota, Ohio and Utah signed pro-life bills in late March or April, while heads of the executive branches of Kansas, North Carolina and Wisconsin vetoed or pledged to veto measures adopted by the legislatures of their states.

The legislative actions have followed pro-life successes in other states this year alongside, however, a substantial victory for the expansion of abortion rights in New York.

The activity in the states comes as abortion rights advocates issue warnings about an apparently more conservative U.S. Supreme Court they fear 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 seek to enact further protections for women considering abortion and their unborn children that will be found acceptable by the high court.

Actions taken by governors on abortion-related bills include:

-- Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb signed into law April 25 a ban on dismemberment abortions, which involve the use of instruments such as forceps, tongs, clamps or scissors to cut off or rip off parts of an unborn baby or crush the child's body.

-- Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed April 25 legislation requiring abortion providers to inform women that medication or chemical abortions may be reversed. A medication abortion is a two-step process that is possible to interrupt after a woman takes the first pill. In an attempt to reverse the abortion, a woman can take progesterone instead of the second pill, misoprostol, according to the National Right to Life Committee.

-- Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly vetoed a similar abortion reversal notification requirement April 22.

-- North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper vetoed April 18 a measure that required health care for a child born alive during an abortion.

-- Montana Gov. Steve Bullock has received a similar born-alive bill finalized April 16 by the legislature but has yet to act on it.

-- Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers confirmed April 22 he would veto a born-alive bill.

-- Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine signed April 11 a bill prohibiting abortion after a fetal heartbeat can be detected.

-- North Dakota Gov. Doug Burgum signed a prohibition on dismemberment abortions April 10 and an abortion reversal notification requirement March 22.

-- Utah Gov. Gary Herbert signed into law March 25 a bill that bans most abortions after 18 weeks of pregnancy.

-- Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson likely will sign pro-life legislation finalized by the legislature April 4 that includes the requirement of a 72-hour waiting period for a woman seeking an abortion.

-- Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp is expected to sign a heartbeat bill finalized by the legislature March 29.

The governors who signed or are expected to sign pro-life proposals into law are Republicans, and the governors who vetoed or promised to veto such legislation are Democrats, with Bullock also being a Democrat.

Southern Baptist ethicist Russell Moore told Baptist Press, "Much of the work of the pro-life movement happens in state legislatures and governor’s offices throughout the country. This work is heroic and needed not just in advance of a future post-Roe world but also to protect the lives of our unborn children today.

“Not every elected official sees the vulnerable life in the womb, as we know by the vetoes issued on sensible public policy like the born-alive bills,” said Moore, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, in written comments. “Our work is to care for those whom society makes invisible so they are seen as our fellow human beings worthy of God-given dignity and protection under the law."

Americans United for Life (AUL) is "very encouraged by the level of energy and engagement that pro-life legislators are showing in the states," said Steve Aden, chief legal officer and general counsel for AUL, which provides model legislative language and legal support for state pro-life efforts.

Some of the pro-life activity "is a response to the extreme pro-abortion moves by states" such as New York, Aden told BP in a telephone interview, "and some of it is just a continued reflection of the strong pro-life commitment in the states that we've seen over the last several years."

States have enacted more than 540 pro-life laws since 2010, according to AUL, but Aden said he would not be surprised if the organization finds "this has been the busiest spring session ever for pro-life legislation or close to it at least."

The New York law enacted in January not only legalizes abortion until the moment of birth, but it permits the death of babies who survive the procedure, according to AUL. Other states are considering similar legislation.

The current situation on abortion policy in the states "is a natural result of the political fray that the Supreme Court handed the American people in 1973 when it declared that the federal government -- and the Supreme Court in particular -- was the abortion control board for the entire country," Aden told BP. "So you've got a situation today where every law relating to abortion in all 50 states is subject to final review by nine members of the Supreme Court. That makes no sense."

A reversal of Roe v. Wade by the justices would return the issue to the states.

It would be better if the high court "reconsiders the raw exercise of judicial power that it engaged in in Roe and returns the issue back to the people, to the states where it belongs," Aden said. "Yes, there would be in some states continued debate, but that's where this debate belongs. You're not going to avoid the debate.

"We're cautiously optimistic, and we hope that soon we'll see this Supreme Court overturn Roe versus Wade and throw it on the ash heap of history."

Earlier this year, the governors of Arkansas, Kentucky, Mississippi and South Dakota signed pro-life bills into law. Other pro-life legislation also has gained approval in at least one legislative chamber in such states as Missouri, Oklahoma, Tennessee and Texas.

Proposals to affirm or expand abortion rights have gained approval this year in one legislative chamber in at least Rhode Island and Vermont.

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: The third paragraph from the bottom of the article was updated with new information after originally being published on April 29.



Tom Strode is the Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.


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