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Legal Battles Over Abortion Continue In States Across U.S.


There's plenty of speculation about how the incoming Trump administration might restrict abortion. The president-elect has said he'd like to see the Supreme Court overturn Roe v. Wade and leave it to each state to decide whether to keep abortion legal. Trump has also nominated a staunch abortion opponent to lead the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Now, the fact is it's already pretty hard to get an abortion in some states, and the legal battle is ongoing. Developments this week made that clear.

Joining us to talk more is NPR's Jennifer Ludden. And I understand you want to start with Texas. That's because officials there announced a state regulation that will require aborted fetuses to either be buried or cremated. What's behind this?

JENNIFER LUDDEN, BYLINE: Well, supporters say this is about dignity, as they put it. This would show the same respect for unborn infants as for other human beings. They say that aborted fetuses should not be just treated as medical waste as happens now. Under the new rule, now it would be up to medical providers to pay for this burial or cremation.

Abortion rights groups say that, you know, this is a cost that's going to be passed down to women that would create another kind of barrier to the procedure. And they also say that mandating, you know, cremation or burial of a fetus is a psychological burden. It really aims to shame women. And they plan to challenge the Texas rule before it's slated to take effect December 19.

CORNISH: Now, how common is a statute like this?

LUDDEN: Well, Vice President-elect Mike Pence signed a similar law in Indiana earlier this year. Louisiana also passed one. Both those laws had been put on hold by courts before they took effect. I spoke with Americans United for Life, which promotes model legislation like this, and they say they are talking to lawmakers in other states, and we can expect to see more laws like this.

CORNISH: Meantime, abortion rights groups have actually filed new lawsuits I understand in three different states. What are they challenging?

LUDDEN: Right, so there's Planned Parenthood, the ACLU and the Center for Reproductive Rights. They filed three lawsuits against three different laws in three different states. In North Carolina, there is a law that bans abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy. It has an exception only in the case of medical emergencies.

In Missouri, there are restrictions on doctors and clinics, and abortion rights groups say they have closed all but one clinic that performs abortion in that state. And then in Alaska, there is a restriction that abortion rights groups say has forced women to fly to other states to have second-trimester abortions.

CORNISH: Now, abortion policy didn't play that big a role in the election this year. I mean why do you think that these legal challenges are happening now?

LUDDEN: So this is really part of a process that, you know, has been going on for a number of years. We have had in recent years hundreds of abortion restrictions passed across the country driven by Republican-dominated legislatures. They have been working their way up. And earlier this year, we saw a landmark Supreme Court decision. The Supreme Court overturned laws in Texas, and in doing so it said that abortion restrictions should benefit women's health. And despite supporters' claims, these laws in Texas did not do that.

Now, abortion rights groups have said this is a case that they can apply to a lot of other restrictions. This is a precedent that will help them overturn other laws. And this week they said they're going on the offensive with these three new lawsuits, and there's going to be more to come.

CORNISH: So isn't there a new risk for abortion rights groups in pursuing these legal challenges - right? If these lawsuits work their way up to the Supreme Court, there could be one or more justices appointed by President Trump by then.

LUDDEN: Right, and abortion rights groups do concede, yes, there is a new risk now. But they also say, you know, there is long-term precedent. That's a big factor in Supreme Court decisions. And they point out that many justices from different administrations have all upheld a constitutional right to abortion over many decades, so they're hopeful that that could still be the case on a Trump Supreme Court.

CORNISH: That's NPR's Jennifer Ludden. Jennifer, thank you.

LUDDEN: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Jennifer Ludden helps edit energy and environment stories for NPR's National Desk, working with NPR staffers and a team of public radio reporters across the country. They track the shift to clean energy, state and federal policy moves, and how people and communities are coping with the mounting impacts of climate change.