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Debates Over 20-Week Abortion Ban Proposals, Other Abortion Restrictions Likely in 2015

January 5, 2015 — Congress, state legislatures and potentially the Supreme Court are expected to take up debates over abortion rights in 2015, according to U.S. News & World Report (Sneed, U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

20-Week Ban

Abortion-rights opponents, including the National Right to Life Committee, intend to support legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the disputed notion that a fetus can feel pain at that point of development.

A number of states have passed such bans (Ludden, "Shots," NPR, 12/30/14). However, lawsuits challenging 20-week bans are pending in several states (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14). Courts have blocked the bans in two states.

According to NRLC State Legislative Director Mary Spaulding Balch, 20-week bans have better chances for passage in 2015 than in previous years in South Carolina, West Virginia and Wisconsin ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

On the federal level, the House and Senate -- both of which will have conservative majorities -- could vote on a 20-week ban in the new Congress. The House passed such a ban (HR 1797) in 2013, and incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) last year promised to hold a vote on a 20-week ban if the GOP gained control of the Senate (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Other Legislation

Meanwhile, Tennessee lawmakers likely will push for more abortion restrictions in 2015 because of the passage of a ballot measure (Amendment 1) last fall that was seen as giving the state more leeway to enact such bills, according to "Shots" ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

In addition, abortion-rights opponents have said they will push for legislation in more states to prevent abortion providers from dispensing medication abortion drugs via telemedicine, according to U.S. News & World Report. Seventeen states currently have such bans on the books, although some have been blocked by courts.

Opponents of abortion rights also might seek to restrict medication abortion in other ways. The Supreme Court in December declined to consider a lower court's decision blocking an Arizona law (HB 2036) restricting medication abortion, meaning that the law will remain unenforced for now. However, it is not clear whether the high court's move will make abortion-rights opponents any less likely to push for similar restrictions in other states, according to U.S. News & World Report (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).

Spaulding Balch said her group will also fight efforts to increase protections for abortion rights in New York and Washington state, where conservatives gained seats in the state legislatures.

Potential for SCOTUS Case

Mixed rulings by appellate courts could increase the chances that the Supreme Court will decide to hear a case regarding abortion restrictions, "Shots" reports.

Speaking about antiabortion-rights laws in general, Center for Reproductive Rights President Nancy Northup said, "Fortunately, many of the most extreme laws that have been passed have been found unconstitutional by the courts, and we have been able to block them." She added, "Courts have recognized that these by and large are sham laws that are designed to make it difficult for women to have abortions. They don't serve any medical necessity, and the courts have seen through that."

Specifically, courts have declared some state laws unconstitutional, such as certain restrictions on medication abortions and some laws forcing physicians to show women seeking an abortion an ultrasound image of the fetus. However, some challenged restrictions remain in effect, including some imposing new building codes for abortion clinics ("Shots," NPR, 12/30/14).

According to U.S. News & World Report, the Supreme Court might take up a case regarding legislation requiring abortion providers to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. Of the almost a dozen such laws passed by states, more than 50% are currently being contested in the courts, and federal appeals courts have issued split decisions on their constitutionality (U.S. News & World Report, 12/31/14).