Fetus Lawyers, Baby Daddies and ‘Legitimate Rape’: America’s Craziest Abortion Bills

Republican state legislatures are getting an early start on draconian bills that would make it harder than ever for women to get an abortion.

01.20.15 10:56 AM ET

Lawmaking officially began last week in most states, and it should surprise no one that abortion is again high on the list of priorities for a number of legislatures going into 2015.

Since the 2010 election tipped statehouses Republican, states adopted 231 new abortion restrictions. Last year alone, 15 states enacted 26 new abortion controls, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

With all those news laws on the books, one might ask, just what’s left to curb? Yet armed with hundreds of pre-written bills—drawn up by model legislation organizations Americans United for Life and the National Right to Life Committee—state lawmakers are finding new ways to make an abortion even harder to get in the new year. 

How many of the bills will actually make it to law also remains to be seen, but those that do are almost guaranteed to face opposition in the courts from pro-abortion groups. Organizations like the American Civil Liberties Union and Planned Parenthood are fighting the most radical anti-abortion bills of 2014 in courts right now.

A 2013 Texas law has shuttered more than half of the clinics in the state and threatens to close almost all of the rest. A federal appeals court will soon decide whether the new regulations, which require Texas clinics to meet the same standards as ambulatory surgery centers, have imposed an “undue burden” on women who would have to drive hundreds of miles to reach a provider.

The ACLU is also fighting to overturn an Alabama law that could effectively put on trial minors seeking an abortion without parental consent. Under the law, a girl who goes before the court to argue she is mature enough to make her own medical decisions, or that she is the victim of abuse or rape, may also face opposing counsel in the form of a court-appointed lawyer who would represent the fetus and could even call witnesses to testify on the unborn’s behalf.

Those legal battles don’t seem to be doing anything to deter future legislation, however. Here’s a look at the states that have gotten an early start at rolling back Roe v. Wade:

In Missouri—where women have to wait 72 hours after receiving dubious counseling to get an abortion (tied with South Dakota and Utah to be longer than any other state requires) and where anti-abortionists have run every clinic but one out of state—Republicans have already introduced eight abortion bills aimed at issues like increased parental consent for minors and encouragement of crisis pregnancy centers. The most inventive comes from one representative pushing a bill that would require permission from a fetus’s father before a woman could have an abortion.

Inspired by his own vasectomy—he claims he was asked for his wife’s consent before the procedure—Republican Rick Brattin has proposed legislation that asks for the would-be father to give consent in writing before any abortion is performed. The father of five does concede that some exceptions can be made to the rule, though. If a pregnancy were a result of rape or incest, a father’s permission wouldn’t be necessary—that is, as long as a woman can prove it. “So you couldn’t just go and say, ‘Oh yeah, I was raped’ and get an abortion. It has to be a legitimate rape,” Brattin told Mother Jones.

Democrats in the state have not yet filed any abortion-related bills.

In Indiana, State Sen. Travis Holdman has introduced legislation that would make it a felony for providers to perform an abortion because of the sex of the fetus or a potential disability like Down syndrome. Among the “diseases, defects, or disabilities” included in the ban: a mental disability or retardation, physical disfigurement, scoliosis, dwarfism, Down syndrome, albinism, and amelia (missing or disfigured limbs).

North Dakota was the first to pass a sex- and genetic-selection bill in 2013, based on model legislation from Americans United for Life. Though more symbolic than restrictive—policing the thoughts of women seeking abortions is no easy task—advocates see a dangerous trend in such laws. “If states can regulate access to abortion based on a woman’s reasons for having it, they can significantly limit access in a piecemeal fashion—slowly and deliberately circling in on the right,” Jaime King, associate director of the UC Hastings Consortium on Science, Law and Health Policy, wrote on Harvard’s Bill of Health blog when the North Dakota law was passed.

In 2014, Tennesseans voted to give lawmakers more power to regulate abortion in the state, and Republicans are wasting no time rallying behind three different abortion bills that include a mandatory waiting period, new inspection requirements for clinics, and an “informed consent” bill, the last of which is most likely to become law, according to the state’s senate speaker.

Then there is State Rep. Rick Womick’s HB2, which would require a woman to have an ultrasound 24 to 72 hours before the procedure. The technician would have to offer the woman a chance to view the ultrasound and if she should decline, the technician must describe the fetus, including its dimensions, arms and legs, and internal organs. Finally, the heartbeat must be made audible and the technician must describe it. Though ultrasounds are considered medically unnecessary for pregnancies when ended in the first trimester, similar laws—aimed more at discouraging women from going through with the procedure than a mother’s health—are in effect in Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin, according to the Guttmacher Institute.

Whether the policy is effective is another matter. In a study last year published in Obstetrics & Gynecology, 98.4 percent of women went ahead with an abortion after viewing an ultrasound.

And in South Carolina, lawmakers filed nine anti-abortion bills before the legislative session even began, four of which were proposals to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks, similar to the national Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives and scheduled for a vote on Jan. 22, the same day of the annual March for Life rally in Washington, D.C.

Of course this state list is only partial, as some states haven’t yet begun their legislative sessions. Lawmakers in states like Louisiana, just named the most pro-life in the U.S. because of its 2014 legislative victories by Americans United for Life, won’t show their hands until later this year.