US conservatives vow harsh restrictions to curtail abortion pills

The US Supreme Court struck down Roe v Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that enshrined the legal right to abortion in the United States in federal law, reversing nearly 50 years of precedent and inflaming a sharp ideological divide.

The ruling last week was the result of decades of relentless organising by conservative anti-abortion rights groups in the US, which are now setting their sights on the fight to shape the post-Roe landscape.

In 2020, more than half of US abortions were pill-induced which could complicate conservative efforts to enforce abortion bans.

Abortion pills such as mifepristone and misoprostol will now take centre stage in battles between conservative states seeking to curtail abortion and liberal states fighting to safeguard it.

Anti-abortion rights groups have indicated that they will take an increasingly punitive approach to restrict the availability of abortion pills, going so far as to promote potential prison time for those who share information about their use in states where abortion is banned.

There is little to indicate that a lack of popular support will dissuade such groups from pursuing a maximalist approach to restrictions.

In the conservative state of Texas, a Quinnipac poll found that nearly 80 percent of voters support abortion exceptions for pregnancies resulting from rape or incest. But the state’s automatic ban, which goes into effect 30 days after the decision, does not allow for either exception.

The group released a “model law” on June 15 that states could use as a template for their anti-abortion laws in the aftermath of Roe.

A section of that model suggests criminal penalties for those who aid and abet abortion access, which can include anyone who offers advice on how to obtain pills over the “telephone, the internet, or any other medium”.

Complicated jurisdiction

California has declared its intention to become an abortion “sanctuary” and has taken steps to prepare for an influx of people travelling to the state for abortions and protecting providers from efforts by conservative states to penalise them.

The NRLC model law says that meaningful enforcement of abortion bans will require a “much more robust enforcement regime” to counter factors like abortion pills and blue states likely to take steps to protect providers, a coalition of actors the group calls the “illegal abortion industry”.

Elected officials such as district attorneys, who in the US criminal legal system are given substantial flexibility to decide which crimes to focus enforcement efforts on, could also play a role.

On the day that Roe was overturned, the progressive group Fair and Just Prosecution released a statement signed by dozens of prosecutors and DAs across the country pledging that, even in states where abortion is outlawed, they will not focus their prosecution efforts on cases relating to abortion.

That is a strategy that some conservative states and anti-abortion rights groups have anticipated.

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