The state-based pro-life push

MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up, state-level protections for unborn babies.

MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: In the last three months pro-lifers have been busy. The year started off with discouraging news. In January, New York state passed a law that allows abortions at any point in a pregnancy if doctors say the mother’s health is at risk.

Virginia proposed a similar law that failed to make it out of committee. Then in February, the U.S. Senate failed to pass an infanticide ban that would have protected babies born alive during abortions or born with medical complications.

REICHARD: But polls show all that advocacy for late-term abortion may be driving more people to reconsider their stance. A February Marist poll found Americans evenly split between pro-life and pro-choice. Another poll taken a month earlier found pro-choicers ahead, by 17%

It’s that momentum that’s giving pro-life legislation a boost. WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg reports.

SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: So far this year, 10 state legislatures have proposed laws that ban abortion after six weeks. The laws are known as “heartbeat bills” because six weeks is typically the point when doctors can first detect a baby’s heartbeat.

In March, Mississippi lawmakers passed their heartbeat bill with overwhelming support. Nearly 70 percent of both state chambers voted in favor of the law supported by Republican Governor Phil Bryant.  

BRYANT: The heartbeat has been the universal hallmark of life since man’s very beginning. I can remember the exciting moments both with my children and grandchildren… and that heartbeat could be heard. 

The Mississippi law is set to go into effect on July 1st. But the pro-abortion Center for Reproductive Rights has filed a legal challenge to stop it.

Georgia passed its own heartbeat law out of the state Senate on Friday, sending it on to Governor Brian Kemp.

AUDIO: On the passage of the bill, the “yeas’ are 34, the “nays” are 18.

Kemp is expected to sign the bill despite opposition from pro-abortion groups and boycott threats from Hollywood. More than 40 actors and actresses sent Governor Kemp a letter last week saying they will urge TV and film production companies to leave the state if the heartbeat bill becomes law.

It’s also likely to face a legal challenge.

Courts have already struck down heartbeat bills previously passed in Iowa, Arkansas, and North Dakota. But Mallory Quigley with the Susan B. Anthony List says passing these laws is still worthwhile.

QUIGLEY: If the bill’s cannot be upheld, at least it’s letting people know, look, this is the reality. This is how life grows. State legislators are really throwing everything at the wall to see what sticks and it remains to be seen.

Florida, Missouri, Ohio, Tennessee, and Texas are all expected to pass their own heartbeat bills later this year.

And heartbeat bills aren’t the only pro-life measures sailing through state legislatures.

Last month, Kentucky Governor Matt Bevin signed two pro-life bills into law. One is a heartbeat bill and the other would protect unborn babies from abortions based on race, sex, or a disability diagnosis. State Senator Max Castlen celebrated his state’s pro-life stance.

CASTLEN: It’s exciting I think Kentucky is leading the nation right now. And I think our core values are showing through here in the commonwealth. 

But soon after Bevin signed the bills, the ACLU challenged both in court. A federal judge ordered the state to temporarily halt enforcement.

Another popular pro-life measure protects unborn babies diagnosed with Down syndrome.

Pennsylvania lawmakers introduced a Down syndrome protection bill in March. Karen Gaffney was born with the condition and advocated for the law at the state Capitol on March 21st, World Down Syndrome Day.

GAFFNEY: If you put your head up and look around, you will see and hear and read about the phenomenal accomplishments of those of us living with Down syndrome all around the world. 

Pennsylvania Democratic Governor Tom Wolf has vowed to veto the legislation if it makes it to his desk.

But a similar bill may have a better outlook in Arkansas. There the state Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation protecting unborn babies with Down syndrome onto the Republican-held house. Supporters feel confident Governor Asa Hutchinson would sign it into law.

North Dakota and Utah have similar laws on the books. But last year a federal judge overturned Down syndrome protections in Ohio and Indiana.

Susan B. Anthony’s Mallory Quigley believes the advocacy for late term abortion by some Democrats is actually helping the pro-life cause.

QUIGLEY: Now we have abortion advocates in their own words talking about just how far they think abortion should go. I think that it has spurred on absolutely the increased pro-life action from state legislators who are acting on the will of their people that elected them to pass pro-life laws.

Reporting for WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg.

(Photo/Creative Commons)

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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