Legislators Pledge to Protect Roe v. Wade in States Across the Country
DENVER, Colo. — 303 state legislators from 44 states signed onto an open letter opposing the nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the U.S. Supreme Court and calling for a new era in state-based solutions to expand access to reproductive health care, including abortion care.
“If Judge Brett Kavanaugh and the Supreme Court have a chance to overturn or gut Roe v. Wade, state legislators will be the most critical defense we have in protecting the legal right to abortion,” said Kelly Baden, SiX Director of Reproductive Rights. “These state legislators are signaling their commitment to the reproductive rights and health of all Americans and they are already taking action to protect abortion rights.”
The letter, also excerpted below, can be read in full here.
“It’s not enough to oppose a Supreme Court nominee who could gut the right to abortion at the federal level; we must exercise leadership as state legislators to do our critical part in creating a world where people can exercise reproductive freedom,” reads the letter. “We pledge to use our platforms as state legislators to advance the reproductive health care needs of the people we serve and to work with our communities to improve our state policies to protect and advance abortion rights and access.”
The letter was coordinated by the Reproductive Freedom Leadership Council (RFLC), a first-of-its-kind national network of over 300 state legislators from across the country committed to embracing leadership on reproductive rights including access to abortion care. The RFLC’s vision and values platform can be found here.
Should Roe v. Wade be overturned, policies determined by state legislatures will determine where and when women have access to abortion care. Currently, just nine states have a law guaranteeing access to abortion: California, Connecticut, Delaware, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Nevada, Oregon and Washington. State legislators are looking to change that and are taking action to expand access and protect rights. Examples of state action include:
- Maryland’s House Speaker Michael E. Busch has announced legislation to ask Maryland voters to approve an amendment to the state constitution enshrining abortion as a right.
- Massachusetts enacted the “NASTY (Negating Archaic Statutes Targeting Young) Women Act, which repeals abortion restrictions in the state that predate Roe (as well as other outdated laws restricting access to contraception).
- For the past two legislative sessions in the Rhode Island General Assembly, RFLC legislators Rep. Edith Ajello and Sen. Gayle Goldin have brought forward the Reproductive Health Care Actto enshrine abortion rights into state law. Governor Gina Raimondo has declared she wants a special session to pass the legislation in light of Justice Kennedy’s retirement.
- In New York, legislators continue to push the Reproductive Health Act, which would protect access to abortion in the state, as well as allow physician assistants and nurse practitioners to perform abortions. The legislation has been blocked by the conservative-controlled Senate, but Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senate Democratic Leader and RFLC member Andrea Stewart-Cousins have asked the Senate to reconvene in order to pass the legislation this summer.
- Even before the announcement of Justice Kennedy’s retirement, states were taking action to protect and expand abortion rights under the Trump era. In 2017, three states took bold actions to protect or expand abortion rights and access:
- Oregon passed one of the most comprehensive laws in the nation to expand access to reproductive health care, including abortion—the Reproductive Health Equity Act. This law ensures that all residents in the state have access to reproductive health services, including abortion.
- Illinois enacted HB40, which expanded abortion coverage and removed language in state law that indicated intent to criminalize abortion if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
- Delaware enacted SB 5, becoming the ninth state to protect abortion rights should Roe v. Wade be overturned.
In other states, focus will also be on repealing existing state statutes that would limit or outlaw access to abortion immediately following a reversal of Roe:
- Nine states have pre-Roe abortion bans on the books: Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Michigan, Mississippi, New Mexico, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Wisconsin. An additional three states have declared their intent to ban abortion if Roe is overturned: Louisiana, North Dakota, and South Dakota.
- The Guttmacher Institute finds that 29 states were hostile or extremely hostile to abortion rights in 2017, a year in which 71 restrictions to abortion and family planning were passed by state legislatures. Since 2011, more than 400 restrictions on reproductive rights and health have passed in states.
The RFLC is coordinated by the State Innovation Exchange (SiX), a national resource and strategy center that supports the efforts of state lawmakers to strengthen democracy, fight for working families, defend civil rights and liberties, and protect the environment.