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Abortion Bans Pass in GOP-Led Florida, Kentucky, Oklahoma & Tennessee as SCOTUS Set to Overturn Roe

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Republican-led states are enacting a wave of new abortion restrictions, including Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and Oklahoma just last week. Reproductive rights are under attack as the Supreme Court appears poised to overturn Roe v. Wade, says Caroline Kitchener, who covers reproductive rights for The Washington Post. We also speak with Kitchener about Lizelle Herrera, the Texas woman arrested for disclosing an attempted abortion with her doctors.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Later in the broadcast, we’ll talk about Cameroonians getting TPS after a multiyear fight. But first, we look now at how Republican-led states are enacting a wave of new abortion restrictions, with four more states added just last week: Tennessee, Florida, Kentucky and Oklahoma. On Tuesday, Oklahoma’s Republican Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill that makes performing an abortion illegal, with an exception only in the case of a medical emergency.

GOV. KEVIN STITT: I promised Oklahomans that I would sign every pro-life bill that hit my desk. And that’s what we’re doing here today. … We want Oklahoma to be the most pro-life state in the country. We want to outlaw abortion in the state of Oklahoma.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes after Florida’s Republican Governor Ron DeSantis signed a bill banning most abortions after 15 weeks of pregnancy, effectively outlawing the procedure. It’s modeled after the Mississippi abortion law that the U.S. Supreme Court is currently weighing and which could essentially overturn Roe v. Wade. Meanwhile, in Kentucky, the Republican-led Legislature voted to enact a similar law that has no exceptions for people who become pregnant by rape or incest. Kentucky also banned abortion pills by mail, as did the Tennessee Republican-led House in a bill passed Thursday. Meanwhile, Democrat-led states, like Maryland and Michigan, are trying to expand abortion access.

For more, we’re joined by Caroline Kitchener. She is national political reporter at The Washington Post, where she covers abortion. Her latest piece is headlined “Republicans enacting a wave of new abortion restrictions.”

Caroline, why don’t you just give us a lay of the land in the United States in this lead-up to the Supreme Court decision in June that could lead to the overturning of Roe v. Wade? I mean, the numbers are just astounding of states that have introduced virtual abortion bans, even in the last week almost one a day.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: It’s hard to keep track. They’re doing the same thing all across the country in Republican-led states. I think a really important point to make is that we’ve seen this in past years, you know, but the past couple of years we’ve seen Republican-led legislatures rushing to pass all sorts of really extreme anti-abortion legislation. But this year it feels different, because it actually seems like some of these most extreme, most sweeping bills, that really wipe out abortion access, could actually take effect. In the past, these kinds of bans, they’ve been blocked by the courts really consistently. But now Texas has this law, this six-week abortion ban that’s been in place since September, and the Supreme Court is potentially poised to overturn Roe. So, the stakes feel really different this year for the kinds of legislation that we’re seeing.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, just describe each situation, I mean, each ban. Just last week, for example, in Oklahoma, describe what Kevin Stitt signed as he said, “We are trying to outlaw abortion,” Oklahoma.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: So, Oklahoma is a — Oklahoma is really one to watch. It’s one that I’ve been paying attention to most closely, because there are several bans there that are moving through that are really concerning to abortion providers. So, there was the one that was signed by the governor last week. That’s a total ban. That would make performing an abortion illegal, punishable by up to 10 years in prison for doctors who provide abortions in the state. But there are also two other bans that could take effect as early as this week, and that — those two I’m watching very closely, because unlike the ban that was signed last week, these two could take effect with the governor’s signature. So that means that abortion could be banned in Oklahoma. This could take effect as early as this week. And now that’s particularly significant for Oklahoma, because as well as affecting Oklahoma patients who are trying to get abortions in the state, it also has a huge impact on patients from Texas, who have been coming to Oklahoma more than any other state since their own abortion ban took effect in September.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, talk about this. I mean, I don’t think people realize in this country that we’re talking about really internal refugees, people who have to go from state to state, like Texas to Oklahoma. And you’ve really documented this, the number of hours that they have to go. And, of course, people of less means — and particularly this is affecting communities of color — cannot afford to either take a plane or drive hours or days to get to an abortion clinic.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: Absolutely. Two weeks ago, I was in a clinic in San Antonio, Texas, where abortion is banned after six weeks of pregnancy. And I was in a consultation room when, you know, women were being told — there’s this one particular woman that I — I’ll always remember this. She was getting her ultrasound, and the doctor told her, you know, “I’m very sorry. We can see cardiac activity on the screen. That means that you’re too far along to get an abortion in Texas.” And she just starts crying, because — you know, he refers her to Oklahoma, but that’s a nine-hour drive for her. You know, I don’t know what her situation was, but you’ve got to consider taking time off work, paying to get there, paying for a hotel, paying for child care. And for so many people, that’s just — like you said, that’s just not an option.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you’ve got the border state, Texas, people going to Oklahoma, but now it is virtually banned there. And talk about the fines and the imprisonment that people who perform abortions face.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: Well, it’s different state by state, but in this Oklahoma bill — and I should say the one, the law that has taken — that has been signed in Oklahoma, that doesn’t take effect until the summer. But that one would make it a crime to perform abortion, punishable by up to 10 years in prison. And we’re seeing different things across different states, like, in Texas, there is only civil penalties, so you can only get sued rather than actually going to prison. But I think that it’s fairly likely that if the Supreme Court does decide to overturn or significantly roll back Roe in the decision that’s expected this summer, I think it’s quite likely that we’ll see more of this kind of criminalization.

AMY GOODMAN: And in Kentucky, you have the Democratic governor, Governor Beshear, vetoing the abortion ban, and now his veto, this past week, was overturned by the Kentucky Legislature. Talk about what has been passed there.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: Well, Kentucky was one that I think initially didn’t get as much media coverage as some of the others because it wasn’t an all-out ban. The bill there is this really sweeping package of restrictions, that clinics have come out and said — the two clinics in the state — there are only two — have come out and said, “Look, with all of these restrictions, it’s impossible for us to provide abortions.” So, since that took effect last week, abortions just have not been happening in Kentucky. And I think that one kind of snuck up on some people, because it wasn’t an all-out ban. But, in effect, you know, it really — it has the same effect. So, we’ll see what’s going to happen. That bill has — that law, I should say, rather, has been challenged. So we’ll see how that plays out in the courts.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to go back to Texas, where the Starr County district attorney said last week he would drop charges against Lizelle Herrera, a 26-year-old Latina woman who was arrested on murder charges, accused of causing the, quote, “death of an individual through a self-induced abortion,” unquote. Her arrest triggered mass outrage, and reproductive justice advocates quickly mobilized to pay Herrera’s half a million-dollar bond. She was released from jail after activists with the Rio Grande Valley-based La Frontera Fund protested outside the Starr County Jail and in the state capital of Austin. This is organizer Coco Das.

COCO DAS: And when S.B. 8 passed in the state, the streets should have been filled with our fury, not just in Texas but all over this country. They should have been filled with people raising hell, refusing to let these fascist politicians go on with business as usual. … The Supreme Court is on track to overturn Roe v. Wade, and there will be no guaranteed right to legal abortion in this country. And no abortion fund and no underground railroad of abortion pills can deal with what this will do to the status of women and girls in this country.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, again, because of the public outcry, she was released, and the local prosecutor dropped the charges. Now, you had a fascinating exposé that just came out last week. Talk about the prosecutor involved and who he is.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: Well, the first thing that I want to say, I mean, my first instinct when I heard about this was, “What is going on? What is the law that they’re basing this arrest on?” Because I think a lot of people heard Texas, they heard abortion — somebody is being arrested for an abortion in Texas — and they thought about the abortion law that’s been in place there since September. But you can’t arrest somebody under S.B. 8. S.B. 8 deals with civil liability. And it also only pertains to people who help facilitate the abortion, not the person who gets the abortion themselves. So, I was just thinking, you know, “What is — what’s going on?” There also is explicitly a law in Texas statute that says that you cannot charge somebody — you cannot charge a pregnant mother with murder for aborting her pregnancy.

So, we really wanted to dig into this district attorney and figure out what is going on here. And, you know, it’s still really hard to say. We don’t have any great answers. But from what we learned from sources in the legal community in Starr County, it really seemed like this was a case of a DA — a Democratic DA, I should say, too; it’s a Democratic county — a Democratic DA who acted much too hastily and really did not know the law and was eager to kind of make a splash before his reelection. So, you know, it’s really hard to say what happened here.

I think the important point to make is that this individual case, it could have huge, sweeping effects on how patients who need abortions, especially in the Rio Grande Valley, feel about it. I talked to abortion providers down there who were really concerned that their patients were going to see this headline, you know, “woman arrested for murder for having an abortion,” and they were going to be too scared, too scared to seek medical attention and too scared to talk with these providers honestly about what happened and about their situations. I also think it’s important to say on this that we definitely could be seeing more of this kind of thing down the road, depending on how the Supreme Court rules in June.

AMY GOODMAN: But I wanted to underscore what you found in your scoop, that the lawyer in South Texas who represented Lizelle Herrera’s husband in divorce proceedings filed on April 7th, the same day she was arrested for murder, is one of five prosecutors who works in the DA’s office that charged her with murder?

CAROLINE KITCHENER: Yeah, yeah. So that woman is the same. She works in the District Attorney’s Office, and she was representing Lizelle Herrera’s husband. So, you know, unfortunately, I don’t have much more beyond that that I can share with you, but certainly we talked to legal experts who were concerned about potential conflicts of interest there.

AMY GOODMAN: Finally, Caroline Kitchener, I wanted to ask you about the attempts to curtail access to the morning-after pill, the abortion pill.

CAROLINE KITCHENER: I mean, we’re seeing that all across the country, I think. You know, the FDA in December announced that they were taking away a lot of the restrictions that had limited distribution of the abortion pill, saying that you could do it by mail, you could do it by telehealth. And Republican legislators that I’ve talked to, they were really upset about that and really wanted to use this legislative session to take more sweeping action, specifically against the pill and against medication abortion. So we have been seeing that. You know, Kentucky, I think, has kind of taken the most extreme action so far on that front.

AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, what happened in southern Texas, going back to the case of Lizelle Hernandez [sic], is happening in the district of Henry Cuellar, who is, I believe, the only or one of the only anti-abortion Democrats, and there’s a runoff election where he’s up against Jessica Cisneros in a very close runoff election for Congress that’s taking place, what, like May 24th. The significance of this, Caroline?

CAROLINE KITCHENER: Yeah. I mean, he was the only House Democrat to vote against the Women’s Health Protection Act in September. That was a bill that would have codified Roe into law. And he voted against it, and now this race is happening, and it’s happening in Texas, where abortion has been banned after six weeks in September. So, I think that race is really one to watch to see how are people responding these kinds of laws, how are Democrats responding to these kinds of laws, and how is that going to play out in the polls.

AMY GOODMAN: And just a correction: The name of the woman who was released and the murder charges dropped is Lizelle Herrera. Caroline Kitchener, we want to thank you so much for being with us, and thank you for your reporting, national political reporter at The Washington Post. Her most recent piece, we’ll link to, “Republicans enacting a wave of new abortion restrictions.”

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