WASHINGTON—The passage of a number of state laws severely restricting abortion is intensifying a national fight over the issue on Capitol Hill and in the 2020 battle for control of Congress.
Abortion supporters are using the state actions, including an Alabama law effectively outlawing abortion, to mobilize Democratic voters for the congressional elections next year.
Democrats and Republicans in Congress, meanwhile, are already at odds over provisions in House spending bills that would restore funding eligibility to organizations the Trump administration has cut to groups that provide abortions among other family-planning services. The rule that had led to reduced funding is on hold amid legal challenges.
Attention to the issue has ramped up since Alabamapassed a law this month making it a felonyfor doctors to perform an abortion at any point during pregnancy, punishable by up to 99 years in prison. The measure is almost certain to face court challenges. Four other states—Georgia, Kentucky, Ohio and Mississippi—have enacted bans on abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected, which can occur as early as six weeks into a pregnancy. A federal judge Friday granted a preliminary injunction blocking the Mississippi ban. Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on Friday signed into law a bill that prohibits abortions after eight weeks of pregnancy, except in the case of a medical emergency.
Some Democratic-controlled states are easing restrictions on late-term abortion procedures and enshrining abortion rights into law. The restrictive state laws, meanwhile, have alreadytaken a central role in the racefor the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination.
Missouri Gov. Mike Parson on May 24 signs Bill 126 into law banning abortion beginning in the eighth week of pregnancy.
Democrats say the state restrictions are motivating voters concerned that court challenges could end up before a conservative-leaning Supreme Court less inclined to preserve the 1973 landmark Roe v. Wade case that recognized abortion as a woman’s constitutional right.
“I don’t want to be a fearmonger, but I do believe that they’re trying to go on a path that would totally dismantle Roe v. Wade,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D., Calif.) said this month.
President Trump, whose two appointments to the Supreme Court helped shift its balance to a conservative majority, this monthcalled for unity among abortion-rights opponents, writing on Twitter, “I am strongly Pro-Life, with the three exceptions—Rape, Incest and protecting the Life of the mother,” and adding “We must stick together and Win for Life in 2020.”
Groups opposed to abortion rights said they were confident the focus on the issue would help them at the ballot box next year.
“Americans are horrified by the national Democratic Party agenda of abortion on demand through birth and even infanticide, and we will work tirelessly to expose this extreme agenda to the voters across key battlegrounds,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony List, a group that seeks to elect abortion opponents to federal office.
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Planned Parenthood Action Fund, which supports legalized abortion, led more than 250 protests at state capitols and courthouses across the country last week.
The organization said it would spend six figures on digital ads in Arizona, Colorado, Georgia, Iowa, Kentucky and North Carolina—all of which could have competitive Senate races next year—pressing women voters to contact state representatives about their stance on abortion. Democrats are hoping abortion could become a key issue particularly for suburban women, similar to theadvantage polls showed Democrats gainedin the debate over health care and protection of pre-existing conditions in last fall’s midterm elections.
“The last several months have shown us what the anti-women-health politicians want. Now the American people can see we were not crying wolf,” said Dr. Leana Wen, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “The energy we saw last week is just the beginning.”
The country remains deeply divided over the issue. Twenty-nine percent of voters say abortion should be legal under any circumstance, up from 21% in 2010, according to Gallup polling. Half of voters polled say it should be legal only under certain circumstances. In one reflection of the polarization, the House Republican caucus nowdoesn’t have a single lawmaker considered a supporter of abortion rights.
House Democrats said they planned to fight for measures they added to two fiscal-year 2020 spending bills crafted ahead of the expiration of the government’s current funding on Oct. 1.
One provision would override a Trump administration rule to strip organizations that provide abortions such as Planned Parenthood Federation of America of millions of taxpayer dollars for family planning. Another provision would block the administration from implementing a policy that preventsfederal funds from going to foreign nongovernmental organizationsthat perform abortions, dispense abortion information or support other groups that do.
“You’re going to see a very strong push from the House Democrats, especially in light of what we’re seeing in Alabama and these attacks on women’s health,” said Rep. Katherine Clark (D., Mass.), vice chairwoman of the House Democratic Caucus. “Part of having the [House] majority here is to be that backstop.”
Republicans say Democrats are risking another high-stakes showdown with President Trump by trying to revive funding for programs he specifically targeted.
“Basically overruling the president’s executive orders—I think it’s going to be a nonstarter for the president,” said Rep. Mark Meadows (R., N.C.), chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus and an influential ally of Mr. Trump.
While the GOP-controlled Senate isn’t expected to take up similar measures, abortion is likely to be one of the most thorny social issues on spending bills that will have to be negotiated between the two chambers. Last week , 25 Republican senators sent a letter to the Senate Appropriations Committee asking the panel to preserve all antiabortion provisions and to not weaken any actions taken by the Trump administration.
Not all Republicans are comfortable with the state-level abortion actions, with lawmakers including Sen. Susan Collins (R., Maine) distancing themselves from the Alabama restrictions.
“I believe the Alabama law is so extreme that I cannot imagine any court upholding it,” she said Thursday. “In my view it’s clearly unconstitutional.”
Ms. Collins is viewed as a vulnerable GOP senator in 2020 because she backed the nomination of Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh. She said at the time that she discussed Roe v. Wade, which she supports, with Justice Kavanaugh, who reassured her by emphasizing the importance of upholding precedents.
But congressional Republicans also see abortion as playing to their advantage in 2020 by rallying public support against procedures done later in a pregnancy. House Republicans have tried 50 times this year to bring up legislation that would require doctors to care for any baby born during an attempted abortion, although it is very rare for an infant to be born alive from the procedure. The move put pressure on moderate Democrats who back access to abortion.