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Thu Jan 24, 2019, 03:34 PM

Under Trump, states step up effort to restrict abortion access

Under Trump, states step up effort to restrict abortion access

Kentucky joins list of states attempting to push through stricter abortion laws as Supreme Court shifts under Trump.

Abortion opponents in Kentucky are backing a new 'fetal heartbeat' bill - the most restrictive yet, and one being considered in other states [Chris Kenning/Al Jazeera]

Louisville, Kentucky - Outside Kentucky's last abortion clinic, anti-abortion rights protesters gather each day to face off against orange-vested volunteers who escort women inside for a procedure that state politicians have increasingly sought to restrict in recent years. But now, abortion opponents are backing a new "fetal heartbeat" bill proposed in the Kentucky legislature - the most restrictive yet, and one being considered in other US states - that they hope will do more than ban abortion as soon as a heartbeat can be detected. Similar laws have been declared unconstitutional - including in Iowa, where a state judge on Tuesday struck down a 2018 fetal heartbeat measure for violating the state constitution.

But supporters of such bills in Iowa and Kentucky and elsewhere say they are aiming for appeals and legal challenges to reach a conservative-leaning US Supreme Court in hopes it will help overturn the 1973 case of Roe v Wade, which blocked states from prohibiting abortion before viability. "Roe v Wade being overturned would be wonderful - I hope it does happen," said Donna Durning, as she prayed, holding anti-abortion literature, next to an "Abortion is wrong" sign at the EMW Women's Clinic in Louisville. The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) sad outlawing abortion any time after a fetal heartbeat can be detected, about six weeks into a pregnancy, is unconstitutional and would effectively ban the procedure.

Court shifts to the right

Similar laws have been introduced in a handful of other states including Ohio, Missouri, North Dakota and Florida. North Dakota's 2013 law was struck down by a federal judge. The Supreme Court has not yet taken up the issue. Kentucky's Senate majority leader, Damon Thayer, has said he "would be proud if it is Kentucky that takes it up to the Supreme Court and we change Roe v Wade". Governor Matt Bevin has called himself an "unapologetically pro-life" Republican. Several abortion cases are currently making their way through federal appeals courts.

Trump's election and his appointment of two conservative-leaning justices - Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanagh - have emboldened politicians in some states to pursue restrictive measures, which have ranged from onerous regulations to bans on second-trimester abortions, according to the Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive rights non-profit think-tank. "Many state lawmakers continue to consider and enact abortion bans that fly in the face of constitutional standards and Roe's precedent in anticipation of an eventual lawsuit on such a ban coming before a Supreme Court hostile to abortion rights," the group said. In Kentucky, several restrictive laws passed by the Republican-controlled legislature have been blocked amid legal challenges, including requiring women to get an ultrasound before an abortion and a ban on a common second-trimester abortion procedure.

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EMW Women's Clinic is Kentucky's only remaining abortion clinic [Chris Kenning/Al Jazeera]

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