TO: Interested Parties
FROM: Abby Ledoux, Planned Parenthood Federation of America & Planned Parenthood Action Fund
CC: Ianthe Metzger, Planned Parenthood Federation of America & Planned Parenthood Action Fund
DATE: Thursday, January 27, 2022
RE: Dangerous trend of states attempting to pass 15-week abortion bans under the radar
In anticipation of a potential U.S. Supreme Court decision upholding Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban later this year – a decision that would effectively overturn Roe v. Wade and dismantle nearly 50 years of precedent protecting the right to abortion under the federal Constitution – state lawmakers across the country have rushed to introduce their own bills banning abortion after 15 weeks of pregnancy. With these bills, they often claim to have found a “reasonable middle ground” between near-total or 6-week abortion bans and the viability line established by Roe.
So far this legislative session, 15-week bans are advancing in Florida, Arizona, and West Virginia, and lawmakers in Virginia introduced a 20-week ban last week on the state’s final day for bill filing. This trend is particularly disturbing since some of these states recently made progress toward protecting abortion access: In 2020, Virginia repealed many of its harmful abortion restrictions, and Florida lawmakers successfully defeated a proposed 20-week ban last session.
These latest bills have, so far, flown under the radar – and that’s by design. It’s no coincidence that state legislators in places like Florida and Arizona have also introduced their own versions of Texas’s S.B. 8, the most restrictive abortion ban to take effect since Roe was decided 49 years ago, which outlaws all abortion after about six weeks – before many people know they’re pregnant – and includes a “sue thy neighbor” bounty-hunting scheme. Their aim is to distract the public with these Texas-style copycat abortion bans that generate outrage and dominate headlines, even, and especially, if they know these extreme bills are unlikely to pass in their states. All the while, they’re pushing 15-week bans which, by comparison, may appear less radical but still accomplish their goal of restricting abortion for people who need it.
A ban is a ban, whether it prohibits abortion after 6 weeks or 15. All abortion bans are extreme and put politicians in control of people’s personal medical decisions. State politicians will try to pass off a 15-week ban as a reasonable compromise, but the truth is that there is no compromise on people’s fundamental rights.
The strategy of abortion opponents is clear: First, put up unnecessary barriers that force patients to delay care, such as mandatory waiting periods and ultrasounds or bans on using insurance, and then ban abortion earlier and earlier in pregnancy to stop people from being able to access care at all. These bans represent political interference in personal health care decisions at its worst.
It’s also important to remember that the true goal of the politicians behind these 15-week abortion bans is to ban abortion outright. If they are successful in passing 15-week bans, there is no doubt their next move will be to try to ban access to abortion earlier and earlier in pregnancy. We’ve already seen evidence of that in Mississippi, where the state legislature passed a 6-week ban while its 15-week ban (at the heart of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization) was still being litigated.
Despite politicians’ attempts to move the goalposts and tighten restrictions on abortion when care is already hard to access for many people, it’s important to remember that a 15-week ban is still very early. It is far less than halfway through the typical 40-week pregnancy and a full two months before the viability line established by Roe. People in many different circumstances need access to abortion, and they must be able to make the personal decisions that are best for themselves and their families.
That includes people like Kim O’Brien, a patient advocate from Louisiana, who had an abortion in 2011 when, at her 20-week ultrasound, she received a severe fetal diagnosis. Kim and her husband had struggled with infertility and worked with a specialist to become pregnant with what would have been their second child. After the ultrasound diagnosis, “we spent days discussing options, weighing pros and cons, and imagining our family’s future,” Kim said. Ultimately, Kim chose to get an abortion, but she quickly discovered how arduous that process would be due to the slew of unnecessary abortion restrictions in Louisiana.
Ultimately, Kim, who had financial resources, emotional support, and employment flexibility, was able to get an abortion in Texas, more than 300 miles away from her home. But many people don’t, and today, S.B. 8 would have barred Kim from getting her abortion in Texas. Elsewhere across the country, Kim would be faced with vastly different circumstances as harmful abortion restrictions have steadily mounted. And, as this legislative session has already proven, even states where abortion has historically been more accessible – like Virginia and Florida – are not immune to these threats.
If the U.S. Supreme Court does not explicitly overturn Roe v. Wade but allows Mississippi’s 15-week ban to stand when it decides Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, it may be framed as another “compromise,” but don’t be fooled. In reality, the court will have decimimated Roe and opened the floodgates for state politicians to restrict abortion earlier and earlier in pregnancy. State lawmakers across the country are betting on this outcome and introducing their own 15- and 20-week bans now. If their bet pays off, millions of people will be unable to control their own bodies and futures as early as this summer.