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Abortion bans fail to pass in 2 conservative states

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

We begin tonight's program by taking stock of recent developments around abortion access. This week, abortion bans in two deeply conservative states, South Carolina and Nebraska, failed to advance in their respective legislatures, raising serious questions about the political viability of these types of laws for Republicans. And also this week, a study out of Oklahoma, a state with a number of abortion bans, sheds light on the real effects of these laws for many women seeking medical treatment. To help us understand these developments, we've called on NPR health policy correspondent Selena Simmons-Duffin. Hey, Selena.

SELENA SIMMONS-DUFFIN, BYLINE: Hi, Sarah.

MCCAMMON: Let's start with the abortion ban failures in Nebraska and South Carolina. What did each of these bills propose?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So the South Carolina bill was a ban at conception, and the Nebraska bill was a six-week ban. Both of them failed in kind of dramatic fashion. So in Nebraska, there was one crucial vote - Senator Merv Riepe. He is a retired hospital administrator who started to say, even though he originally co-signed the bill, that six weeks was maybe not quite enough time. And you and I both report on the fact that many women don't know that they're pregnant as early as six weeks.

So. He was starting to say, maybe this should be 12 weeks, maybe this should be later. And ultimately, he blocked this bill from proceeding. And then in South Carolina, there was a filibuster. All of the five women in the Senate - three Republicans, one Democrat and one independent - banded together to filibuster a full abortion ban. During debate, they were raising the complications that can come up in pregnancy, the mental toll of dealing with law enforcement in cases of rape. And ultimately, that bill failed as well.

MCCAMMON: And, of course, this is coming at a time when Republicans are increasingly concerned about political backlash from these restrictive bans. At the same time, we should note that some activists in the anti-abortion rights movement are criticizing these moves by state lawmakers. Students For Life of America, for example, issued a statement criticizing the lawmakers in South Carolina. Now, these aren't the only states where there's been legislative action on abortion. A couple of states, Minnesota and Washington, passed laws protecting abortion access. Selena, what do these laws do, and how do they fit into the bigger picture?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: So these two laws protect patients and providers who are providing abortion care or receiving abortion care from being affected by laws in other states. So, for example, if a patient from Texas travels to Washington state or travels to Minnesota and gets an abortion, this law is designed to kind of shield them from any legal issues they might face when returning home.

But, you know, you and I both know this is kind of the strange legal moment in terms of there have not been a lot of cases yet of patients who traveled for care, of providers who provided care to out-of-state patients. And so it's really unclear yet what these shield laws are going to do in practice and what states like Texas and some of these states that are really trying to kind of push the limit of - in their abortion legislation, how far they're going to try to reach out into states where abortion is legal and enforce their laws.

MCCAMMON: Right. I think one legal expert put it to me, it's just uncharted territory at this point.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Right.

MCCAMMON: You also spent some time this week reporting on a study from Oklahoma that looks at the effects of abortion bans on medical care. What was that study, and what did it find?

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Yeah. So this was interesting. A group of researchers from the Center for Reproductive Rights and Oklahoma Call for Reproductive Justice and Physicians for Human Rights did a study where they had some young women, grad students call and say that they were prospective patients. They called 34 hospitals in Oklahoma, and they asked questions saying, you know, I'm pregnant, and this is my first pregnancy. And I'm nervous. And I want to know what your policies are if complications come up in my pregnancy and I need a medical abortion.

And they found that most hospitals could not articulate what the policy is. Like, do doctors have to seek guidance from a board? What is that process? What kind of support is there for doctors who provide medical abortions? The wording becomes really important because a lot of these laws are not using really medical terminology, necessarily. And so it's really challenging for clinicians and hospital administrators to translate that into real life. And it just goes to show that hospitals don't really know how to put these laws into practice. And so even something that sounds as straightforward as a life-saving abortion ends up being quite fraught and quite complicated.

MCCAMMON: NPR's Selena Simmons-Duffin. Thanks so much.

SIMMONS-DUFFIN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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Selena Simmons-Duffin
Selena Simmons-Duffin reports on health policy for NPR.
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