Legislative Lowlights: State Lawmakers Begin 2019 With Flurry of Anti-Choice Legislation

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Roundups Law and Policy

Legislative Lowlights: State Lawmakers Begin 2019 With Flurry of Anti-Choice Legislation

Brie Shea

Anti-choice lawmakers in over a dozen states pushed anti-choice measures to restrict reproductive rights last week.

Rewire.News tracks anti-choice and anti-LGBTQ legislation as it works its way through state legislatures. Here’s an overview of the bills we’re watching.

Multiple abortion bans are being considered in Kentucky; a Republican in Alaska wants to deny transgender people healthcare; lawmakers in Illinois, Oklahoma, and West Virginia want to grant rights to fetuses—and that’s not even the half of it. Welcome to 2019.


Last week, state Rep. George Rauscher (R-Sutton) prefiled HB 5, which would prohibit the state from paying or reimbursing for the cost of any surgery or pharmaceutical drug therapy used for transition-related care. Rauscher filed an identical bill last year that failed to advance. Currently, the state’s employee health-care program, AlaskaCare, covers transition-related hormone therapy but excludes transition-related surgical treatment. Lambda Legal sued the state in federal court last summer on behalf of a state employee who was forced to pay out-of-pocket for her surgical treatment. The complaint argues that AlaskaCare’s blanket exclusion of transition-related surgical treatment violates the sex-discrimination prohibition of Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The case is still pending.

Rauscher also prefiled HB 7, which would restrict what can be taught in sex education courses in the state. The bill would require information regarding pregnancy and parenting to include that “the life of an unborn child begins at conception.” It would also require any program in sex education or human reproductive education to advocate for abstinence and would prohibit instruction about the use of contraceptive methods. The measure would further prohibit instruction in, or advocacy of, homosexuality, gender identity or expression, and sexual activity outside of wedlock.

Roe is gone. The chaos is just beginning.

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On Thursday, Florida became the fourth state this year to file a heartbeat abortion ban. State Rep. Walter Bryan “Mike” Hill (R-Pensacola) prefiled HB 235, which would require a physician to test for a fetal heartbeat prior to the performance of an abortion. The bill would make it a felony to perform or induce an abortion once a fetal heartbeat has been detected—which can occur as early as six weeks into pregnancy before many people know they are pregnant. The bill would also make some terminology changes to statutes regulating abortion—replacing the term “fetus” with the term “unborn human being.” The Florida State Legislature convenes on March 5.


On Friday, state Rep. Patrick Windhorst (R-Metropolis) filed HB 340, which would restrict insurance coverage for abortion and reinstate Illinois’ “trigger law” outlawing abortion in the state if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade. The trigger law provision includes personhood language declaring that an “unborn child is a human being from the time of conception” and is, therefore, “entitled to the right to life from conception” under the state constitution. The bill is identical to a 2018 measure that failed to pass.

Another measure filed on Friday, HB 342, attempts to co-opt the anti-vaxxer movement in order to attack fetal tissue research. When providing vaccines, health-care providers would be required to notify patients if the immunizing agent is derived from aborted fetal tissue, and if available, offer an alternative vaccine. The bill is identical to a failed measure considered in the Michigan State Legislature last year. That bill was supported by an anti-choice group that used deceptive terms like “abortion-tainted vaccines” and “aborted babies” to refer to certain vaccines produced in the 1960s.


On Thursday, state Rep. Peggy Mayfield (R-Martinsville) filed a measure to ban dilation and evacuation (D and E) procedures—the most common method of performing second-trimester abortions. HB 1211 would make it a felony to perform a so-called “dismemberment abortion” unless it’s necessary to prevent serious health risks to the pregnant person or to save their life. Just last month, Ohio became the tenth state to pass a D and E ban. Mississippi and West Virginia currently prohibit the procedure, but courts have blocked or temporarily enjoined the law in seven other states.

State Rep. Liz Brown (R-Fort Wayne) filed SB 201, which would allow health-care providers—including nurses, midwives, and paramedics—to refuse to perform or participate in an abortion if doing so would be contrary to any religious or moral belief. Current state law only exempts only physicians and their employees.


Conservative lawmakers in Kentucky last week introduced a handful of abortion restrictions, including a total abortion ban, a fetal heartbeat ban, and a selective abortion ban. First up: HB 5, which would make it a felony to perform an abortion if the pregnant person is seeking it, in whole or in part, because of the sex, race, color, national origin, or disability of the fetus. The measure is similar to a 2016 Indiana law signed by then-Gov. Mike Pence (R) and blocked in a federal district court and by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals. The Supreme Court is expected to make a decision any day now on whether or not to take on the case.

On Thursday, state Rep. Joseph Fischer (R-Fort Thomas) filed HB 148, the “Human Life Protection Act.” The bill would completely prohibit abortion in the state of Kentucky if Roe v. Wade were to be overturned or an amendment were adopted to the U.S. Constitution restoring state authority to prohibit abortion. Except when necessary to prevent the death or serious injury of a pregnant person, it would be a felony to use or employ any instrument or procedure upon a pregnant person with the specific intent of causing or abetting an abortion. The bill—which has over 30 co-sponsors—was referred to the state house judiciary committee.

Last month, a fetal heartbeat abortion ban was prefiled in the state house. That bill was formally introduced last week and referred to committee. A similar bill was introduced last Tuesday in the state senate. SB 9 would make it a felony to perform or induce an abortion when a fetal heartbeat has been detected. The two bills are nearly identical, though the house version includes additional informed consent requirements.

Finally, lawmakers in the state senate fast-tracked SB 50, a bill that would require physicians to report abortions induced by medication. This would include any prescription for RU-486, cytotec, pitocin, mifeprex, misoprostol, or any other drug or combination of drugs that are intended to end a pregnancy. Introduced last Tuesday, the Kentucky Senate voted 30 to 6 in favor of the bill on Friday. The bill now heads to the state house of representatives for consideration.


On Friday, state Sen. Michael Watson (R-Pascagoula) introduced SB 2113, which would create the crime of chemical endangerment of a child or fetus. A person who knowingly causes a child or fetus to be exposed to a controlled substance or drug may face up to five years in prison if the child or fetus suffers serious physical injury, and up to 20 years in prison if the child or fetus dies. The bill is identical to a handful of previously failed measures.

That same day, Mississippi became the fifth state to consider a fetal heartbeat abortion ban in this already never-ending-year. State Sen. Angela Burks Hill (R-Picayune) introduced SB 2116, which would prohibit a person from performing an abortion on a pregnant person once a fetal heartbeat has been detected. Doctors would also be required to inform the pregnant person of the statistical probability of bringing the fetus to term. The bill is nearly identical to several previously failed measures.


At least 10 anti-choice measures had their first—and second—readings last week as Missouri began it’s 2019 legislative session. Most of the measures were prefiled in December, which we covered here. Since last week was bananas, here’s just a quick breakdown:

  • HB 126/SB 139 – fetal heartbeat abortions bans that would ban abortion as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
  • HB 127/SB 106 – would require notification of both parents of a minor seeking an abortion.
  • HB 282 – would require informed consent materials for patients referred to out-of-state abortion clinics.
  • HB 339 – bans abortion at 20 weeks after fertilization.
  • HB 420 – removes geographical proximity requirements for certain staff of an alternatives to abortion agency.
  • HB 488 – requires a report for any spontaneous fetal death that occurs as early as nine weeks into pregnancy.
  • HB 431 – prohibits transporting a minor across state lines to obtain an abortion without the consent of a parent, guardian, or court order.
  • HB 540 – would require abortion risk factor evaluation and the reporting of risk factors.
  • SB 110 – would require a physician or qualified professional to inform the pregnant person at least 72 hours prior to an abortion that they may choose to have the remains of the fetus buried or cremated, at the patient’s expense.


On Friday, state Sen. Keith Regier (R-Kalispell) introduced a measure to require abortion providers to inform patients of the opportunity to view ultrasound images of the fetus and listen to the fetal heart tone prior to the performance of an abortion. A person who fails to inform their patient of the opportunity to view the images or listen to the heart tone, would be subject to a $1,000 fine.


Last week in the Cornhusker State, state Sen. Joni Albrecht (NP-Thurston) introduced a measure to require doctors to inform pregnant patients of the possibility of reversing a medication abortion. LB 209 would also require the state to provide printed materials with this information, including directions on where to obtain assistance in locating a qualified medical professional who can aid in the reversal of a medication abortion. Four states (Arkansas, Idaho, South Dakota, and Utah) currently require physicians to provide information about “reversal”—a treatment that has yet to be proven. Arizona passed an “abortion reversal” law in 2015, but it was blocked and later repealed.

New York

On Friday, state Sen. James Tedisco (R-Glenville) introduced a measure to require fetal death reports after an expulsion of a fetus of any gestational age. Hospital staff would be required to inform the mother of the fetus that they have the right to access the report and to direct either burial, entombment, or cremation of the fetal remains. Information on fetal deaths is typically required to be reported to a state when the gestational age is 20 or more weeks. This bill would basically require fetal death reports for miscarriages. With Democrats back in control of the New York State Senate, the measure will likely die. But we still like to keep receipts around here.

North Dakota

Nebraska wasn’t the only legislature to consider an “abortion reversal” measure last week. Lawmakers in North Dakota introduced HB 1336, which would require physicians to inform patients seeking an abortion that it may be possible to reverse the effects of an abortion-inducing drug. The nearly identical measure would require physicians to provide information directing the patient where to obtain further assistance in locating a medical professional who can aid in the reversal of abortion-inducing drugs, such as mifepristone and misoprostol.


Last Monday, state Sen. Dave Rader (R-Tulsa) prefiled the “Oklahoma Personhood Act.” The measure states that life begins at conception, and would give constitutional rights to fertilized eggs, embryos, and fetuses. If passed, it could essentially ban abortion, birth control pills, IUDs, and emergency contraception. In addition, it would eliminate certain medical choices for women, including some cancer treatments and in vitro fertilization. The bill clarifies that nothing in the provision should be interpreted as creating a cause of action against any pregnant person who indirectly harms their “unborn child” by failing to properly care for themselves or follow a prenatal program of care. And really, that’s a step-up from the total abortion ban filed in November by state Sen. Joseph Silk (R) that would subject anyone involved in an abortion to murder charges. So that’s something.


The fact that Democrats have super-majorities in both chambers of the Oregon State Legislature hasn’t deterred at least one Republican. State Sen. Kim Thatcher (R-Keizer) prefiled a measure to ban so-called “late-term sex-selective” abortions. The bill—which has failed to pass for several years—would prohibit third-trimester abortions that are undertaken solely due to the known or suspected sex of the fetus. The measure definitely won’t pass, but once again, we like the receipts.

Rhode Island

On Friday, state Rep. Arthur Corvese (D-North Providence) introduced the “Unborn Child Protection Act from Dismemberment Abortion Act.” This is the third D and E procedure ban to be introduced this year, after South Carolina and Indiana. Any person who violates this provision and performs the safest, most common method for second-trimester abortion would be guilty of a misdemeanor for the first conviction, and guilty of a felony for any subsequent conviction. Corvese—a Democrat—has sponsored or co-sponsored more than 30 anti-choice bills in the last five years. And he’s not alone—Democratic lawmakers are actually responsible for most of the anti-choice legislation that ends up in the Rhode Island General Assembly.

South Carolina

South Carolina began its 2019 legislative session last week. While there isn’t any new legislation to report, a handful of prefiled abortion restrictions were formally introduced and assigned to committees. They include: a pair of fetal heartbeat abortion bans, a dilation and evacuation (D and E) ban, a personhood measure, and a forced ultrasound bill. You can read more details about them here.

West Virginia

Last Wednesday, state Rep. Pat McGeehan (R-Hancock) introduced the “Life at Conception Act of 2019.” The measure would guarantee the right to life to all human beings, at all stages of life, including fertilization. The bill clarifies that nothing in the provision should be construed to require the prosecution of a pregnant person for a fetal death, to prohibit in vitro fertilization, or to prohibit the use of birth control. With this bill, West Virginia became the fifth state of the year (after Illinois, Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas) to try and grant rights to fetuses.


Finally, Republican lawmakers in Wyoming prefiled legislation last week to create additional abortion reporting requirements. The measure would require physicians to include a pregnant patient’s race, ethnicity, and marital status in each abortion report. Current law only requires the patient’s age. The report would also need to include the type of procedure and the gestational age of the aborted fetus or embryo in completed weeks at the time of the abortion. A physician who fails to complete the report would face a fine and possible disciplinary action. Intentional falsification of a report could mean up to a year in prison.