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The latest in reproductive legislation

(Photo courtesy of Lanozione) “Gavel on table infront of American Flag”

Sabine LaurentdeCannon
Connector Contributor 

Two years have passed since Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health overturned the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision, putting reproductive health back in the hands of the states. The Roe v. Wade decision provided constitutional protection to abortions performed before a viable fetus. The National Institute of Health approximates viability, or, the fetus’s ability to survive on its own outside of the womb, as being around the 24-week mark. This marker, however, is no longer the norm. This nearly 50-year precedent has been nullified, giving each state individual power to determine abortion guidelines for their residents.  

As of March 2024, 14 states have complete bans on abortion with limited exceptions. All share the same “life-threatening conditions arising from the pregnancy” exclusion. These states are Idaho, North Dakota, South Dakota, Indiana, Missouri, Kentucky, West Virginia, Arkansas, Tennessee, Oklahoma, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas. Texas specifically has consistently appeared at the forefront of healthcare news due to the ambiguity of its stringent fetus termination laws. Late Friday afternoon, the Houston Chronicle reported that nearly a dozen women have sued the state because of the “unclear exceptions” within the legislation. Their case is currently pending at the Texas Supreme Court.  

The ambiguity stated in the lawsuit stems from the “reasonable medical judgment” exception. This leaves discretion to the physician if complications, emergencies, or medical crises arise during pregnancy. Maine and West Virginia have similar language in their regulations, causing much unease within their medical communities as doctors may find themselves needing to defend each decision to terminate a pregnancy before the court. The uncertainty surrounding these issues has resulted in progressively fewer physicians willing to perform abortions, regardless of whether or not the pregnant individual qualifies for an exception under state law.  

Georgia and South Carolina enacted a 6 week or “fetal heartbeat” ban with no exceptions. Florida, North Carolina, Arizona, and Nebraska have 12-15-week bans, and the remaining states have bans ranging from 18 weeks to no restrictions. Idaho, Indiana, Mississippi, North Dakota, North Carolina, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wyoming are currently the only states with protections for rape and incest within their laws.  

IVF, or in vitro fertilization, was recently added to the reproductive health conversation. Alabama’s Supreme Court issued a ruling in mid-February asserting that embryos created for the treatment can be considered children, creating a great deal of red tape around the disposal of unused or unwanted embryos. The ruling stemmed from a wrongful death lawsuit brought to court by a couple whose embryos were accidentally destroyed. Many of the state’s IVF clinics halted their services immediately after the ruling.  

However, due to the mounting pressure from the state’s residents, the Alabama House and Senate passed a bill to protect clinics from criminal and civil liabilities for their operations. On March 6th, Governor Kay Ivey signed the bill into law. The Alabama Democratic Caucus critiques the new law, claiming it “does not adequately address the many legal questions of embryonic parenthood.” Other critics speculate that the law could unknowingly shield clinics from medical malpractice claims. Regardless of the mixed opinions, some IVF clinics have reopened and are resuming their treatments in March and April. 

Within Massachusetts, abortion legislation has not changed since the Dobbs decision. Fetus termination is banned at viability with no exceptions. Governor Maura Healey has vowed to continue to prioritize and protect reproductive healthcare. On March 10th, Healey expressed her support for accessible abortion medication, stating, “Medication abortion is safe, effective, and legal. Here in Massachusetts, we are not going to…restrict access to care.” Her pronouncement followed the ruling by a federal court in Texas that blocked FDA approval of the abortion drug mifepristone. The Supreme Court is set to hear the case on Tuesday. The court’s ruling will have big implications nationwide, as abortion pills are the most common and accessible form of reproductive healthcare. 

When asked about the effects of abortion regulations and limited healthcare options, Professor Jenifer Whitten-Woodring of the UMass Lowell Political Science Department had a few statements to make. She stated that strict regulations affect mostly “women and girls who are poor and cannot afford to travel to obtain access to healthcare, and women and girls living in rural areas where access to healthcare is already limited.” Whitten-Woodring continued, saying, “This really comes down to something that German economist Albert Hirschman termed an ‘Exit, Voice, and Loyalty game.’ People typically have three choices: they can exit by removing themselves from…where their rights are marginalized, they can exercise their voice and try to bring about change, or they must…live with the marginalization. Unfortunately, poor people usually don’t have the exit option.”  

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