2. Late term abortion and babies born alive debates
Many Americans were shocked as they watched abortion rights activists’ victorious celebration moments after the New York state Senate passed a bill allowing abortion up to birth for any reason in the state.
Surrounded by pro-choice lawmakers and Sarah Weddington, the lawyer nationally known for successfully arguing the winning side of the Roe v. Wade case, Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed the so-called Reproductive Health Act into law on Jan. 22, the 46th anniversary of that U.S. Supreme Court ruling.
Catholic leaders swiftly condemned Cuomo and called his faith into question. Bishop of Albany, the Most Rev. Edward B. Scharfenberger, called the bill the “Death Star” for its “aggressive extremism.” He said in part, “Granting nondoctors permission to perform abortions does nothing to advance the security and health of women. … [And] removing protection for an infant accidentally born alive during an abortion is abject cruelty.”
A few weeks later, outrage erupted again after Virginia’s Democratic Gov. Ralph Northam defended infanticide in a WTOP interview where he was asked about a proposed bill that would have allowed abortions up to 40 weeks of pregnancy, including killing a baby as a mother was dilating ahead of giving birth. In the interview, Northam defended the bill and then said that even after birth it's up to the parents and doctor to decide whether a baby should be “resuscitated” and kept alive.
Northam later said at a news conference that he didn’t have any regrets about what he said, arguing that his comments were “mischaracterized” by the media. The bill in question was subsequently defeated.
While attention was focused on New York for removing gestational limits on abortion, seven other states and Washington, D.C., passed laws years earlier allowing third-trimester abortions with no gestational limits.
In June, Illinois Democratic Gov. JB Pritzker signed a bill into law that pro-lifers called the most "extreme" late-term abortion measure in the country. The Reproductive Health Act repealed the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, legalizing late-term abortion even when there is fetal viability. The bill also requires insurance companies to cover abortion with no exceptions for religious institutions, and allows non-physicians, such as registered nurses, to perform abortions. It also eliminates licensing and health and safety inspections of abortion clinics.
Vermont lawmakers also passed a bill that codifies the state’s existing abortion laws that allow abortion in the third trimester up to birth. Republican Gov. Phil Scott signed bill H. 57 into law in June.
Other states with majority pro-life legislators and governors passed laws this year that require clinics to meet health and safety standards and place limits on abortion. Among those states are: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Kentucky, Louisiana, Missouri, Ohio, Oklahoma, and Utah.
Utah and Arkansas both passed laws banning the abortion of babies diagnosed with Down syndrome. Louisiana, Georgia, Kentucky, Missouri, and Ohio passed laws banning most abortions as soon as a preborn baby’s heartbeat is detected. Kentucky also passed a law banning abortion based on sex, race and disability, as well as a law banning second-trimester dismemberment abortions that was later blocked by a judge.
Alabama’s Republican Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill into law making abortion a felony in the state, with no exceptions for rape or incest. Actor Jim Carrey reacted by creating a cartoon depicting Ivey being aborted. And some pro-life activists also criticized President Donald Trump — who has been lauded as being the most pro-life president in modern U.S. history as far as his policies — for suggesting that abortion bans in Alabama and Missouri that don’t include exceptions in cases of rape or incest go too far.
On Dec. 9, the U.S. Supreme Court gave Kentucky a victory by allowing a law to be enacted that would require abortion clinics to show mothers an ultrasound image of their baby and listen to audio of their child’s heartbeat before going through with an abortion. The law had been blocked by courts since it was enacted in 2017.
In Mississippi, however, a three judge panel of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit ruled on Dec. 13 that the state cannot ban abortion at 15 weeks into a pregnancy, saying the law, known as the “Gestational Age Act,” went against “a woman’s right to choose an abortion before viability.”
In January 2020, Tennessee will be voting on its heartbeat bill and considering an amendment that has pro-life groups divided because it could ban all abortions in the state by defining life as beginning at conception, and viability as being confirmed upon detection of human chorionic gonadotropin, a hormone that can be detected in some pregnancy tests. Some fear such legislation could backfire at the Supreme Court.
Abortion will continue to be a hot topic in the 2020 presidential election and Democratic candidate Pete Buttigieg might have to address more questions about the late abortionist Ulrich Klopfer, who severely injured women at an abortion clinic he operated in South Bend, Indiana, where Buttigieg serves as mayor.
Melissa Barnhart contributed to this report.