The Economist reports:
THREE days after the Arkansas House of Representatives passed the Human Heartbeat Protection Act, Jason Rapert, the freshman state senator who sponsored the bill, took to Twitter to boast that the new law “stands to save thousands of lives”. Its chances of doing so, however, depend first on surviving a court challenge. The law, which passed on March 6th, bans abortions after 12 weeks of pregnancy—the age by which an ultrasound examination can usually detect a fetal heartbeat—except to save the life of the mother and in pregnancies resulting from rape or incest.
This directly contravenes the Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling in Roe v Wade, which held that the right to privacy—which it had earlier found in the Fourteenth Amendment and “in the penumbras of the Bill of Rights”—effectively set the date at which a fetus can survive outside its mother as the point at which states have the power to ban abortions outright. Mike Beebe, the governor of Arkansas, vetoed the bill for just this reason, though the legislature overrode his veto. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), its Arkansas chapter and the Centre for Reproductive Rights, an abortion-rights advocacy group, have vowed to file suit shortly.
Even if that lawsuit kills the law, women in Arkansas will still find obtaining an abortion difficult. The state already bans abortions after 20 weeks, and it has just one abortion clinic. Nor will neighbouring states offer them much help. Louisiana and Oklahoma also ban abortions after 20 weeks. Mississippi has but a single clinic, which is at risk of being shut down by a law requiring abortionists to have admitting privileges at local hospitals. “Personhood” bills have been introduced in Oklahoma and Mississippi, which would extend legal protection to zygotes. Texas is mulling both a 20-week ban and an admitting-privileges bill like Mississippi’s. All of Arkansas’s neighbours allow health-care providers to refuse to take part in an abortion. All of them also limit public funding of abortions to cases of rape, incest and danger to the mother’s health.
Farther afield in the South, the story is much the same. Late last year Bob McDonnell, Virginia’s governor, approved regulations requiring abortion clinics to meet the same building requirements as hospitals (abortion-rights proponents argue that such measures have less to do with safety than with regulating abortion clinics out of business). Alabama looks set to enact a law that combines Mississippi’s admitting-privileges statute with regulatory requirements similar to Virginia’s. The Guttmacher Institute, an abortion-rights advocacy group, classifies states as hostile, “middle-ground” or supportive of abortion rights. In 2000 just a handful of southern states qualified as hostile; 11 years later their map shows a solid wall of hostility, from Virginia down to Florida and over to Texas and Oklahoma.
Not all these laws will survive. Mississippi’s voters rejected a personhood amendment in 2011. The 20-week bans may prove unconstitutional (the point of fetal viability varies, but the Supreme Court defined it in 1992 as being at “23 to 24 weeks”). Last week a court in Idaho struck down that state’s 20-week ban as unconstitutional and Georgia’s is tied up in court. But as more laws go before more courts, the chance of one of them getting a favourable decision rises. “The new paradigm of the pro-life movement”, explained Dan Becker, president of Georgia Right-to-Life, “is all about introducing tension into the law…We have different courts ruling in different ways, which is a surefire way to challenge Roe.”