Are blue states ready to relax their ban on abortion?

You hear people say the term “third rail” in politics all the time, usually referring to an issue that’s too volatile. to charge – To touch. For decades, abortion after pregnancy has been one of those problems. As recently as four years ago, a proposal to loosen restrictions on third-trimester abortions came under fire in Virginia when Republicans accused Democratic lawmakers of advocating infanticide — an attack that was misguided but effective.

But the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, which overturned Roe v. Wade, changed the current course through the abortion debate. And now Democratic lawmakers may have new opportunities to expand abortion rights — including abortions as early as the second and third trimesters of pregnancy. Last week, Maine’s Democratic governor, Janet Mills, announced a new package of legislation designed to make it easier to get an abortion, including a measure that would expand the ability to perform abortions after a fetus has lived outside the womb. The proposed bill does not remove the ban, but it would loosen restrictions, giving doctors more discretion to recommend subsequent abortions. In Minnesota, some lawmakers are working to repeal a similar ban, which many abortion providers still follow even though it was halted by a court more than 40 years ago. California is also debating whether the state’s newly passed constitutional protections for reproductive rights preempt the state’s ban on post-term abortions.

But has the abortion debate changed enough for Democratic lawmakers to relax or remove the ban on third-trimester abortions without burning out? Abortions in the second or early third trimester are still unpopular, but on a limited scale, less unpopular than an outright ban — which could remove some of the risk for Democratic lawmakers who want to ease access to post-violence abortions. And a growing share of Democrats want abortion to be legal in all cases, which could give blue-state lawmakers even more reason to loosen restrictions.

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Abortions after the point of fetal viability – which is usually around 24 weeks of pregnancy – are often restricted regardless of which state governs. Eleven states controlled entirely by Democrats still ban abortions after 24 weeks of pregnancy, with few exceptions. Often, it’s the scope of the exceptions that matters: Only four clinics in the country will perform abortions in the three trimesters of pregnancy, and two operate in Maryland, which prohibits abortions after viability but allows exceptions for fetal abnormalities and psychological and risk factors. Physical health. Abortion-rights advocates and legal experts argue that some states’ exceptions are too limited and give little deference to medical opinions. In fact, lawmakers said the proposed Maine bill would expressly expand the state’s exception to give doctors more leeway to leave the state for an abortion caused by a woman with a rare and fatal fetal abnormality.

Feasibility became a legally important dividing line after the Supreme Court’s 1992 decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, when the justices ruled that due to changes in medical care, states were now allowed to ban post-legalization abortions. In the lead-up to the decision and its aftermath, some Democratic-controlled states passed laws that essentially codified the terms of that decision. This was an attempt to ensure that if the Supreme Court eventually reversed course, abortion would still be legal in those states—but it also likely contributed to the stigmatization of abortion after pregnancy.

In general, Americans don’t know much about abortion, but the gap between belief and reality is particularly large when it comes to subsequent abortions. 2020 Kaiser Family Foundation data found that only a small portion of Americans correctly identified that fewer than 5 percent of abortions occur after 20 weeks of pregnancy — in fact, that year, the share of abortions was about 1 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Unlike earlier abortions, which occur for a wide range of reasons, many abortions in the second or early third trimester are prompted by medical problems such as fetal abnormalities or risks to the health of the pregnant woman. Medical organizations have made it clear that late-pregnancy abortions are not legal and ethical, and a 2021 survey conducted by Ipsos found that Americans who are more knowledgeable about fetal development and pregnancy are also more knowledgeable than those who are less knowledgeable. To support legal abortion. But anti-abortion advocates and Republican politicians — including former President Donald Trump — have used the existence of post-viability abortions to claim the abortion-rights movement is dangerously extreme.

When most abortions were constitutionally protected, it was easy to argue that it was abortion-rights supporters — not their opponents — who were trying to push abortion laws out of the mainstream. Support for legal abortion generally declines with gestational age, although generally in public opinion on abortion, views are more nuanced than they appear. A 2022 poll by the Pew Research Center found that 44 percent of Americans who said abortion should be illegal after 24 weeks of pregnancy agreed that a woman should be able to get an abortion if her life is in danger or the baby is born with a serious disability, and 48 percent said “it depends.” That may be why some states — including New Hampshire last year — have added fetal abnormalities to their post-viability exceptions.

Mary Ziegler, a law professor at the University of California-Davis who studies abortion, said that anti-abortion advocates were subsequently able to use abortion as an effective political tool because at the time of Roe’s position, Americans were generally unaware of how far-reaching abortion was. On the other side those lawyers wanted to go. “The argument was, ‘Abortion-rights advocates are extreme because they’re not satisfied with the protections we already have,'” Ziegler said. “Now it’s much harder to argue that those who oppose abortion are in the middle.” Moreover, Democrats have become more supportive of legal abortion in the past few years. A solid majority (58 percent) of Democrats think abortion should be legal, according to Civics’ tracking poll. all cases, up 50 percent from just two years ago.

Later easing of restrictions on abortion may not make the procedure any easier, however. There are only four clinics in the country that currently perform third-trimester abortions, and hospital policies on later abortions are unclear. Three of these clinics are in the Washington, D.C., area and the fourth is in Colorado, meaning that to reach one, most women must travel long distances. And later abortions are often very expensive. They’re only sometimes covered by insurance, and the bill for a third-trimester procedure — which can take up to three days — can easily run into the thousands of dollars.

Changes in state laws may allow more abortion providers to offer subsequent abortions. Whether they actually will, though, is a separate question. Doctor and nurse-midwife team Dr. Diane Horvath and Morgan Nuzzo, discovered when they set out to open an all-quarters abortion clinic in Maryland just over a year ago, found a location and secured funding for a new clinic. Opening is not an easy task. Clinics in states like Illinois, Kansas and North Carolina, which are near areas of the country where abortion is largely banned, have struggled with long wait times since the Dobbs decision due to a flood of out-of-state patients. Adding later abortion procedures could put a significant burden on clinics that are already under pressure. Changing laws may also affect willingness to perform abortions after the hospital, but those changes are difficult to track.

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Adding to Dobbs’ effects, more people may seek abortions later. Months after the Supreme Court’s ruling, some abortion providers were already reporting an increase in second-trimester abortion patients — those who might have earlier abortions if not for the difficulty of getting an appointment or the time and money involved in the sacrifice. Get an abortion legally in the state. “If we see people experiencing longer delays, there will be more people who need this care that until now has been really rare and hard to get,” said Elizabeth Nash, a principal policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports . Abortion rights. “And that can’t happen without more providers who are willing to provide abortions later in pregnancy.”

So the political fate of the bills in Maine and Minnesota is important not only because it would be a significant legal change in a region where abortion is largely banned after enactment, but also because it is an early signal as to whether the politics of abortion is changing later. This may not be an easy process. After Dobbs, for example, Massachusetts Democrats were divided over whether to extend an exception to the state’s later abortion ban, and the proposed change was swamped by fears that the state’s Republican governor would veto it. But the results of the 2022 midterms — which gave Democrats control of additional state legislatures — could embolden left-leaning state legislators.

“Progressive states are generally acknowledging that there are gaps [abortion] access to their state, and they’re looking for ways to fill that gap,” Nash said. “We will soon hear more from other states on this.”

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