Anti-abortion activists are pushing increasingly extreme measures to curtail access to abortions in Missouri and across the country. The clear objective is to force a legal challenge that would return the abortion question to the U.S. Supreme Court. Even if they don’t make it to the high court, the efforts seek to make abortion access more difficult and increase penalties for women and abortion providers.
The Missouri House gave first-round approval recently to the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act,” which would ban most abortions after 20 weeks. Supporters, such as bill sponsor Rep. Donna Lichtenegger, R-Jackson, say science shows a fetus can feel pain by then. The bill needs a final House vote before advancing to the Senate. Missouri currently bans most abortions at 22 weeks.
Other state legislatures are pushing even stricter efforts, including one signed by Mississippi’s governor to ban abortions after 15 weeks. A bill pending in Ohio would ban abortion outright, with no exceptions for victims of rape or incest or to save a woman’s life. The strategy is to provoke a court challenge to Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision legalizing abortion.
The Ohio bill would giving the fetus “unborn human” status, and allow for criminal charges against abortion providers and women seeking abortions. A woman who terminated her pregnancy via abortion could be charged with murder under the bill.
Mississippi’s 15-week measure, currently the most restrictive abortion law in the nation, has been temporarily blocked by a federal judge.
Scientific advances are partly responsible for energizing the anti-abortion movement. When Roe v. Wade became law, it pegged most fetuses’ chance of viable life outside the womb at 28 weeks. The ruling says states could reasonably restrict women’s access after that. New medical techniques are available that could conceivably push the viability threshold closer to 22 weeks, which has led many states to ban the procedure earlier in pregnancies.
Only about 2 percent of abortions are performed past 20 weeks, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a research group that supports legalized abortion. The group says the abortion rate has been declining for decades and reached its lowest number in 2014 with 652,639 abortions nationwide.
New scientific and medical techniques that can measure fetal pain and keep a fetus alive outside the womb deserve serious debate in the crafting of new laws. But Dr. Daniel Sulmasy, a former Franciscan friar and professor of biomedical ethics at Georgetown University, says, “The question of whether the embryo or fetus is a person … is not answerable by science.”
The Supreme Court ruled against attempts to restrict women’s access to abortion in 2016. Justices should be in no mood to revisit the issue with legislation that runs blatantly contrary to what the court has already deemed constitutional.
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