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Activists protested against restrictions on abortions after Alabama passed the most restrictive abortion bans in the US (file photo) Alamy Stock Photo
Abortion Rights

US Republicans fret over abortion as states balk at bans

Reproductive rights are set to take center stage in the 2024 election in the US.

THE FAILURE OF bills curbing abortion rights in two deeply conservative US states this week underscored the growing disquiet felt by Republicans over the threat the issue poses to their political ambitions.

Reproductive rights are set to take center stage in the 2024 election, with President Joe Biden’s Democrats and their Republican opponents seeking to capitalize on an issue that polarizes Americans like almost no other.

But conservative politicians hoping to enact severe restrictions after the US Supreme Court gutted federal protections last year have been having second thoughts amid a backlash from voters galvanized by the threat to their freedoms.

South Carolina’s Senate and Nebraska’s legislature — both about two-thirds Republican — rejected a near-total prohibition and a six-week ban respectively on Thursday as conservatives defied their own parties to block the legislation.

It was the third time draconian curbs had failed in South Carolina since the high court’s ruling in June and abortions in both states remain legal for at least the first 20 weeks of pregnancy.

“Some of you follow the leader off the cliff time and time again, every time, when it comes to abortion,” South Carolina state senator Sandy Senn admonished her fellow Republicans in a debate ahead of the vote.

Abortion laws are about nothing more than “control,” she argued, pointing to the gender disparity in the 46-member chamber, which has just five women.

All five female senators — three of them Republican — tanked the abortion vote with fiery speeches defending reproductive rights.


- ‘Signer’s remorse’ -


“The only thing we can do when you all — when you men in the chamber — metaphorically keep slapping women by raising abortion again and again and again, is for us to slap you back with our words,” Senn said.

In Lincoln, Nebraska the failure of a ban at six weeks provoked a visceral reaction on both sides of the debate, but the cheers of dozens of pro-abortion rights activists who embraced outside the chamber drowned out the anti-abortion voices.

Merv Riepe, a co-sponsor of the bill, ended up developing what he called “signer’s remorse,” and disavowing his own legislation after coming to appreciate that many women may not know they are pregnant at only six weeks of gestation.

“In an ideal world, every child would have the opportunity to live, thrive and experience a fulfilling life,” the former hospital administrator said, according to the legislature’s official in-house publication.

“However, we must acknowledge that we do not live in a utopian society and we face challenges in life that make it difficult to achieve this ideal.”

Scout Richters, senior counsel for the American Civil Liberties Union of Nebraska, hailed the vote as a sign that most Nebraskans support legal access to abortion, adding it was “past time that state senators’ votes reflect that reality.”


- ‘Winning issue’ -


According to polls, a comfortable majority of Americans think abortion should be legal in most cases, and around half of US states have measures in place to protect access.

Republicans claimed victory in the 2022 Supreme Court ruling — which overturned the 40-year-old Roe v. Wade precedent guaranteeing access to abortion in every corner of America — and have since enacted strict bans or restrictions in 19 states.

But the party has struggled to stake out a definitive position on the issue and was punished in last year’s midterm elections as candidates lost key battlegrounds to pro-choice candidates.

While elected politicians in some of the country’s most conservative states, like North Dakota and Florida, have passed near-total or six-week bans, the voters themselves in others such as Kansas and Kentucky have moved to protect abortion.

“We know that the majority of Americans agree that abortion should be accessible, affordable, and available for everyone who is seeking care,” Morgan Hopkins, president of the pro-choice All Above All Action Fund, told AFP.

“Abortion will continue to be a top issue for voters and a winning issue in this upcoming cycle. Anti-abortion politicians have overplayed their hand and voters are making it clear — abortion justice cannot wait.”

© Agence France-Presse 

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