Elizabeth Nash: A Surge in Bans on Abortion Before Most People Know They Are Even Pregnant

March 25, 2019 – Antiabortion activists and politicians have kicked their decades-long agenda to ban abortion in America into high gear through a series of increasingly radical and dangerous state-level laws. Between January 1, 2019 and March 20, 2019, 304 abortion restrictions were introduced in states across the country.

One trend that stands out is the surge in states wanting to ban abortion at six weeks’ gestation—before most people even know that they are pregnant. Prior to this year, six-week bans were rarely enacted, as antiabortion activists and politicians publicly focused their efforts on other restrictions, like targeted regulation of abortion providers (TRAP) laws, that severely undermine access but are designed not to appear to be frontal assaults on abortion rights.

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Six-week abortion bans are a different story altogether. Such a ban was first introduced in Ohio in 2011, and was first enacted in North Dakota in 2013. Iowa enacted a similar six-week ban in 2018. Both laws have been struck down by the courts.

Despite the legal repudiation of such blatant abortion bans, in the first 10 weeks of 2019 alone, Kentucky and Mississippi banned abortion at six weeks, while similar legislation has moved in Georgia, Missouri, Ohio and Tennessee. In addition, six-week bans have been introduced but have not yet moved in Florida, Illinois, Maryland, Minnesota, New York, South Carolina and West Virginia.

The fact that states are advancing radical abortion bans that are clearly in violation of Roe v. Wade is part of a deliberate strategy to advance these cases to the U.S. Supreme Court, in hopes that an increasingly conservative Court will undermine or even overturn Roe. In effect, each state-level ban is just as much about abortion rights nationwide as it is about restricting access in any particular state.

Other types of abortion bans are also getting attention this year. Arkansas enacted legislation that bans abortion at 18 weeks of pregnancy and enacted a “trigger law” that would ban abortion completely if Roe v. Wade were overturned. And Kentucky also banned abortion in cases of race or sex selection or genetic anomaly. Although none of these bans are currently in effect—some have later effective dates and some are the subject of litigation—all of these efforts are about control and power. At their core, abortion restrictions prevent people from making decisions about their own lives and futures.

The surge in attempts to ban abortion in the earliest stages of pregnancy drives home that the end goal of antiabortion politicians and activists is to ban all abortion—at any point during pregnancy and for any reason—even as they shamelessly spin a false and inflammatory narrative about abortion later in pregnancy. Now, their real agenda—banning abortions before many people even know they’re pregnant—is there for everyone to see.

Elizabeth Nash is the Senior State Issues Manager in the Guttmacher Institute’s Washington, DC office. She coordinates the efforts of the state team, which analyzes legislative, regulatory and judicial actions on reproductive health issues and develops Guttmacher’s monthly State Laws and Policies series and update of state policy developmentswww.guttmacher.org