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Republican state leaders hope US Supreme Court will back tough abortion restrictions

by Press Association

Politicians in Republican-governed states are considering an array of tough anti-abortion restrictions they hope might reach the US Supreme Court and win approval from its conservative majority, overturning the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.

A sweeping ban already has been signed into law in South Carolina, only to be swiftly blocked by a lawsuit from abortion-rights groups.

Arkansas' governor signed another ban this past week.

A batch of other near-total bans also were blocked in the courts after their passage in 2019.

It is not clear if or when the Supreme Court might consider any of them, or take some other path.

The court could weaken Roe with approval of less drastic restrictions or even leave the core of the 1973 ruling in place.

"Anyone who tells you what the Supreme Court is going to do is pulling your leg," said Jennifer Popik, federal legislative director for the National Right to Life Committee.

What is clear is that the federal judiciary changed dramatically during Donald Trump's presidency.

In addition to three appointments to the Supreme Court, giving it a 6-3 conservative majority, Mr Trump made scores of appointments to federal district and appellate courts.

That raises the possibility that previously rejected anti-abortion measures might now be upheld.

State Representative John McCravy, a Republican who sponsored the South Carolina ban, said Roe v. Wade was on his mind in crafting the bill.

"This is a decision that the Supreme Court is going to need to make," he said.

"Certainly it's encouraging to see the court changing and to see hope at the end of the tunnel."

The South Carolina law, like several passed by other states in 2019, would ban most abortions after a foetal heartbeat is detected, typically about six weeks after conception.

In Arkansas, the bill Governor Asa Hutchinson signed on Tuesday goes further, banning all abortions except when performed to save the life of the mother.

It has no exceptions for rape or incest.

Mr Hutchinson had favoured including those exemptions but signed the bill anyway as an explicit challenge to Roe.

"It is the intent of the legislation to set the stage for the Supreme Court overturning current case law," he said.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Arkansas plans to challenge the ban in court.

Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project, suggests the Supreme Court, under Chief Justice John Roberts, may prefer to weaken Roe by curtailing abortion access rather than take up a case that could lead to Roe's outright reversal.

"Even if Roe stays on the books, it will be harder and harder for people in the South and Midwest and Great Plains to get abortions," Ms Dalven said, referring to regions where Republicans generally dominate state politics.

"Roberts can allow the wall to get higher and higher and yet not provoke that headline that the Supreme Court overturns Roe."

One pending case could provide a strong hint about the high court's intentions.

It may announce soon whether it will consider Mississippi's bid to enforce a 15-week abortion ban.

If accepted, the case would provide an opportunity for the reconfigured court to dramatically change the way Roe is applied.

Nancy Northup, president of the Centre for Reproductive Rights, said it would be "shocking" if the Supreme Court agreed to consider the Mississippi case.

"The only reason would be to do fundamental damage to Roe," she said.

"We've never had a court like this, with so many justices clearly opposed to the constitutional protection of abortion rights."

Michael New, an abortion opponent who teaches social research at Catholic University of America, predicts the Supreme Court will move slowly.

"Over time, I think states will be allowed to do more to protect the preborn," he said.

"But court decisions will likely only allow for gradual changes in public policy."

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