America's Harshest Anti-Abortion Laws

by Seth Millstein

The Oklahoma Supreme Court determined Tuesday that a 2011 state law would effectively outlaw all drug-induced abortions in the state, and is thus unconstitutional. The ruling comes just a day after a federal judge blocked components of Texas’s controversial abortion restrictions on the same grounds. These are the latest examples of a series of constitutionally-questionable abortion restrictions, many of which gleefully violate Roe v. Wade, enacted by Republican state legislatures in the last year. But when challenged in court, these laws are often blocked by judges who, unlike the governors and legislators who enact them, respect the high court’s 1973 ruling that abortions are a constitutionally-protected right, at least until the point of viability.

It’s a mixed bag, though: Some of the laws have been struck down, others have been temporarily blocked, and others — like Mississippi — are in a weird sort of undetermined legal limbo. Here’s a reminder of what’s going on with some of the harshest laws across the country.


In March, the Arkansas state legislature passed a bill outlawing abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected via an abdominal ultrasound, which is generally around 12 weeks. Democratic Governor Mike Beebe vetoed the bill, but the Republican-controlled legislature overrode his veto. The ACLU and Center for Reproductive Rights sought an injunction against the law, and federal judge Susan Webber Wright granted it before the law took place, ruling the law “defines viability as something viability is not,” and was thus “more than likely unconstitutional.” A full trial is scheduled for next year.

North Dakota

Not to be outdone by Arkansas, North Dakota passed a law in March that outlawed all abortions after a fetal heartbeat was detected through any means. This amounted to a ban on abortions after six-weeks, the harshest restriction in the country. After signing the legislation, Governor Jack Dalrymple said it was designed by the state legislature “to discover the boundaries of Roe v. Wade.” And discover those boundaries it did, after a federal judge called the law “a blatant violation of the constitutional guarantees afforded to all women,” issued an injunction against it, and criticized Republicans in the state for wasting taxpayer money to push it.

That being said, the state still only has one abortion clinic, and bans after 20 weeks, so this is more of a case of things not getting worse than things getting better.


In early July, Governor Scott Walker signed a bill requiring, in part, that all abortion clinics in the state obtain admitting privileges at nearby hospitals. This would have resulted (not accidentally) in the closure of several abortion clinics in the state, as admitting privileges are often difficult or impossible for abortion providers to procure (there are a variety of reasons for this; using admitting privileges to shut down clinics has been used by anti-abortion forces in other states as well, including Texas).

In August, U.S. District Judge William Conley placed a preliminary injunction against that part of the bill until a full trial in November, saying that the law’s defenders likely wouldn’t be able to demonstrate that the privileges requirement was reasonably related to a woman’s health. However, Conley let stand a provision in the bill requiring that women seeking abortions first receive an ultrasound.


Erich Schlegel/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Republicans in the Lonestar State passed a law over the summer that would ban abortion after 20 weeks, require admitting privileges for abortion providers, and limit how and when medically-induced abortions can be carried out. A judge blocked the law’s admitting privileges requirement, which would have likely shut down several clinics in the state, and weakened the restrictions on Medical abortions. But the rest of the law, including the 20 week ban, remains intact, though there are more legal challenges pending.


Governor Phil Bryant has publicly stated that he wants Mississippi to be “abortion-free,” and the state’s legislature acted earlier this year to make that a reality.

Like North Dakota, Mississippi only has one abortion clinic (it also has the highest teen birth rate — hmmm!). That clinic, the Jackson Women’s Health Organization, was threatened with closure after the state legislature passed a bill in spring requiring doctors performing abortions to have admitting privileges, which the physicians have tried and failed to procure multiple times in the past.

Federal Judge Daniel P. Jordan initially blocked the law, then reversed course and allowed it to be enacted, but with a caveat: The clinic will be permitted to continue operating until January while its physicians attempt, again, to get admitting privileges.


This case is a bit different. The Oklahoma Supreme Court blocked a 2011 law that, by taking advantage of how FDA regulations are written, effectively outlawed medically-induced abortions in the state. Oklahoma Attorney General Scott Pruitt then asked the Supreme Court of the United States to take up the case; SCOTUS agreed to hear it, but asked the Oklahoma court to clear up some questions first — mainly, whether or not the law actually would outlaw medical abortions (its initial ruling didn’t explicitly state that it would do so; it merely declared the rule unconstitutional).

Today, the Oklahoma court sent SCOTUS its reply: Yes, the law does ban medical abortions. Now, SCOTUS will hear the case — possibly as soon as this term. In the meantime, medical abortions will remain legal in Oklahoma.