Republican lawmakers in several states have introduced legislation proposing homicide and other criminal charges for those seeking abortion care. The bills have been introduced in states such as Texas, Kentucky, South Carolina, Oklahoma, and Arkansas, The Guardian reports. Some explicitly target medication abortion and self-managed abortion; some look to remove provisions in the law which protected pregnant women from criminalization; and others look to establish the fetus as a person from the point of conception. It is unlikely that all of these bills will pass, but their proliferation marks a distinct departure from the language of existing bans and abortion restrictions, which typically exempt people seeking abortion care from criminalization. “This exposes a fundamental lie of the anti-abortion movement, that they oppose the criminalization of the pregnant person,” said Dana Sussman of Pregnancy Justice. “They are no longer hiding behind that rhetoric.” Some members of the anti-abortion movement have said the bills do not align with their views, continuing to insist that abortion providers, rather than pregnant people themselves, should be targeted by criminal abortion laws.
The bills are likely to be controversial as they proceed, even within conservative circles: Republicans have frequently hit walls when trying to pass anti-abortion legislation, with lawmakers at odds over exactly how far bans should go. The reproductive justice organization If/When/How points out these bills are an indication of the different wings and splinter groups in the anti-abortion movement, increasingly evident since the Dobbs decision last year that overturned Roe v Wade. The bills being introduced in Arkansas, Texas, Kentucky and South Carolina look to establish that life begins at conception. Each bill explicitly references homicide charges for abortion. Homicide can be punishable by the death penalty in all of those states. Bills in Oklahoma, South Carolina, and Texas also explicitly target medication abortion, which has fallen into a legal gray zone in much of the country. A bill in Alabama has also been announced by Republican Rep. Ernest Yarbrough that would establish fetal personhood from conception and repeal a section of Alabama’s abortion ban that expressly prevents homicide charges for abortion. The state’s current law makes abortion a class A felony, on the same level as homicide, but exempts women seeking abortions from being held criminally or civilly liable.