What’s going on in the fight over US abortion rights?

Louisiana has joined a slew of states across the US in legalising an anti-abortion measure that bans the procedure as soon as a foetal heartbeat can be detected. What’s behind the push – and the backlash – for anti-abortion bills across the US?

On Wednesday, the Louisiana state legislature approved a law that will prohibit abortions once a heartbeat is detectable, without any exceptions for rape or incest. The state governor has now signed that bill into law.

In the first months of this year, nearly 30 states introduced some form of an abortion ban in their legislature. Fifteen have specifically been working with so-called “heartbeat bills”, that would ban abortion after six weeks of pregnancy.

These bills are part of a wider movement of anti-abortion measures sweeping the US.

Earlier in May, Alabama lawmakers passed a bill to ban abortion outright.

And later this week, Missouri’s sole remaining abortion clinic will appear in court as it fights to keep its operating license from the state health department.

If the license is refused, Missouri will become the only US state without an abortion clinic.

What are heartbeat bills – and why now?

“Heartbeat bills”, as the term implies, seek to make abortion illegal as soon as a foetus’ heartbeat is detectable. In most cases, this is at the six-week mark of a pregnancy – before many women even know they are pregnant.

“We have never seen so much action around six-week abortion bans,”said Elizabeth Nash, senior state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute – a group that researches sexual and reproductive health.

“But we now have seen a shift in the composition of the US Supreme Court.”

President Donald Trump has placed two conservative Supreme Court justices and, Ms Nash says, making it seem more amenable to revoking abortion rights.

“Because of this, we are seeing state legislatures looking to ban abortion as a way to kickstart litigation that would come before the [Supreme] court, and the court could then roll back abortion rights.”

Progressive legislators are also responding – in January, New York signed into law a bill safeguarding abortion rights after 24 weeks in certain cases, reigniting discussions about the controversial procedure.


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