Restricting abortion: 5 most controversial debates
Republican leaders at both the state and federal levels are making limiting abortion a big priority
GOP lawmakers at both the state and federal level have made fighting abortion a priority in the new year. A Planned Parenthood sting last month, in which men entered 12 locations in six states posing as pimps for child prostitutes, has added further fuel to the reproductive-rights battles, leading Slate's David Weigel to declare last week "Abortion Week." Here are five current points of debate among lawmakers:
1. HeartbeatsOhio lawmakers are considering the "heartbeat" bill, a measure that would ban abortion once the fetal heartbeat can be detected. That can be as early as 18 days into a pregnancy, so the proposal would make for the strictest abortion law in the country. "The idea is a beating heart would not be stopped by abortion," says Diana Stover, the head of Northeast Ohio Value Voters, a group backing the bill. But such a restriction would be equal to an abortion ban, says Kellie Copeland of the pro-choice group NARAL. "Most women don't know they are pregnant at that point. It would give them no opportunity to learn they were pregnant and make a decision." Ohio lawmakers are also considering bills that would ban late-term abortion and enforce stricter parental consent rules.
2. Race and sex selectionArizona lawmakers last week introduced bills that would ban abortion for reasons of racial or sex selection, and require women seeking abortions to sign an affidavit saying they are not doing so because of the fetus' sex or race. A similar bill was introduced in Georgia last year, but never made it past a House committee. "These race and sex selection bills are part of a growing meme in the anti-choice movement — targeting abortion as so-called 'black genocide,' along with drawing comparisons between abortion and slavery," says Miriam Zoila Pérez in The Indypendent. No, the bottom line is that it's "never right to abort a child because it's supposedly the wrong sex or race," says Sydney Hay, a Republican candidate for Congress in 2010 who testified in support of the bill. Arizona has an opportunity to "lead the nation" by passing this law.
3. Required sonogramsThe Texas Senate is considering a bill that would require doctors to perform a sonogram on women seeking abortions, although a recent change to the bill would allow a woman to opt out of looking at the sonogram or hearing the heartbeat. Republican State Sen. Dan Patrick, who sponsored the legislation, says he hopes that seeing the sonogram and hearing the heartbeat may lead some women to change their minds and say, "You know what? That's my baby." This is a textbook "example of government overreach," said the ACLU of Texas in a statement. Earlier this week, the Wyoming House gave preliminary approval to a bill that would require doctors to inform women that they have the option of viewing an ultrasound of their fetus.
4. Late-term abortionsA bill pending in the Iowa House would ban abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, unless the mother's health is at risk. A 20-week law went into effect in neighboring Nebraska last October, and similar measures are in the works in Indiana, New Hampshire, Oklahoma, and other states. Iowa House Speaker Kraig Paulsen says this issue is urgent, as doctors from Nebraska could move into the state with the aim of performing late-term abortions.
5. Federal fundingRepublicans in Congress are pushing several pieces of legislation that would limit federal funding for abortions. The No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act would permanently ban the use of federal money to subsidize abortions except in cases of rape, incest, or threat to the mother's life. The bill would also deny tax credits to employers who offer insurance plans that cover abortion. Meanwhile, the Title X Abortion Provider Prohibition Act would cut off hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding to Planned Parenthood and other organizations that provide abortions. Critics note that organizations like Planned Parenthood reserve the federal money that they receive for women's health and family planning services, not abortions.