Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images(NEW YORK) — The abortion debate in America has lately been dominated by news that conservative lawmakers in Alabama, Georgia, Ohio and Missouri had approved sweeping new restrictions to abortion access. But meanwhile, several states with Democratic majorities have been pushing through bills that fortify abortion rights.
While proponents of abortion rights had few outright victories, they say they are making progress.
On Tuesday, the Vermont House gave final approval to H.57, a bill that states abortion is a “fundamental right” and also protects the right to contraception, sterilization and family planning.
“Thank God for Vermont,” state Sen. Virginia Lyons told ABC News on Friday. “We’re a bastion of sanity and understanding of reproductive rights and process.”
Lyons is also sponsoring Proposal 5, which would amend the state’s Constitution to declare abortion a right. That proposal passed in the state House and Senate, but must be approved again by a majority in both houses in the next legislative session before it can go before voters in a referendum. Its proponents hope to see it on the ballot in 2022.
It’s not just Vermont.
In Illinois, the Reproductive Health Act would establish reproductive health, including abortion, as a fundamental right. The bill has stalled since its introduction in February, and this week, its sponsor State Rep. Kelly Cassidy held a protest to call for movement on the act.
“The more we hear stories like Alabama, like Ohio, the more frustrating it becomes, because the threat is very real,” she told ABC News, adding that watching the string of anti-abortion bills in another states is “the nightmare.”
The bill has been sitting in a subcommittee and needs to be moved to a substantive committee for action to take place on it, The State Journal-Register reported. The Executive Committee has indicated they would take it as early as next week.
“I think that there is a lack of understanding of the urgency,” Cassidy said, because the state has a Democratic majority. But, “this threat” to reproductive rights “is real,” she said.
Cassidy supports the bill not just to preserve abortion access for the people of Illinois, she said, but also for the people from neighboring states, where restrictions are harsher, who go to Illinois for abortions. In 2017, over 5,500 women came to Illinois to get abortions, the Chicago Tribune reported.
Other states, though, have stumbled in their attempts to enact laws protecting abortion rights.
A Rhode Island Senate bill was voted down in committee this week. State Sen. Stephen Archambault, a Democrat, said the bill went too far and wasn’t strict enough where it concerned abortion in later stages of a pregnancy.
“I wasn’t comfortable with that,” he told ABC News, acknowledging that he is “pro-choice,” but had “serious concerns in the event that there is a post-viability, late-term abortion.”
Archambault did draft an amendment that would codify Roe v. Wade in the state, but with stricter language around abortion in the later stages of a pregnancy. That amendment and a House bill “are still very much alive,” he said.
Maryland House of Delegates Speaker Michael Busch withdrew a measure that would make abortion rights part of the state’s constitution in February, saying he recognized it would not pass in both chambers of the State House and that he plans to reintroduce it in 2020, according to The Baltimore Sun.
Meanwhile, efforts to widen abortion access in Virginia led to a showdown between Gov. Ralph Northam and President Donald Trump. Since then, Trump has used increasingly violent and misleading language around “late-term abortions.”
Conversations around “late-term abortion” were prompted in part by a long-awaited victory for abortion rights advocates in New York, where Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the Reproductive Health Act in January. That act codifies abortion as a right in the state and legalized abortion in New York after 24 weeks of pregnancy if the patient’s health or life is at risk or if the fetus is not viable.
State Sen. Liz Krueger, a sponsor of the bill, told ABC News it has been “extr1emely disturbing” to see the recent anti-abortion laws pass and be signed in other states.
“I am fairly mortified that state after state, it is older men who are trying to dictate what kind of health care doctors can perform in their state and what kind of health care rights women of fertility age can access,” she said. “Who are these men who think they have the right to determine what every women are choosing for themselves in coordination with their doctors? How dare these men tell doctors we will throw you in jail for providing basic health care services?”
She added that in addition to a lack of apparent understanding of reproductive health some anti-abortion lawmakers have shown, they are also acting against the wishes of the people. While an equal percentage of Americans self-identified as “pro-choice” and “pro-life” in a 2018 Gallup poll, a total of 79% of Americans said they believe abortion should be legal under any or certain circumstances.
“I hope it does backfire on [the anti-abortion lawmakers],” Krueger said, “and I hope more and more states realize following New York’s path is in the best interest of their residents.”
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