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State lawmakers plan special sessions on abortion

Legislators could quickly pass laws in response to an expected Supreme Court ruling


South Carolina Rep. John McCravy (left) speaks with South Carolina Citizens for Life executive director Holly Gatling last year in Columbia, S.C. Associated Press/Photo by Jeffrey Collins, file

State lawmakers plan special sessions on abortion

This time of year, South Carolina House Rep. John McCravy is usually shifting his attention to his work as a private attorney. The months after the busy legislative session should be his time to catch up on cases at his law firm, but right now he has homework: He’s studying the contents of a 4- to 5-inch notebook stuffed with all the model bills and legislation he could find that aim to protect babies from conception to birth.

Before the South Carolina legislative session ended on May 12, both chambers of the state Legislature passed a resolution calling for lawmakers to reconvene and consider select matters. Normally, lawmakers would only return to the capital city of Columbia after the normal session to pass a budget or override a gubernatorial veto. This time, the Legislature added an unusual item: to return after July 1 to introduce and consider “legislation in response to a decision of the United States Supreme Court in the case of Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization.

In preparation, House Speaker Murrell Smith, a Republican, organized a committee to hold public hearings and provide recommendations once the Dobbs ruling comes out. Appointed chairman, McCravy is now prepping for those committee meetings instead of catching up on his private practice.

Other state legislators on both sides of the abortion debate are also gearing up to react to the expected ruling in Dobbs, a case that pro-lifers hope (and pro-abortion groups fear) will lead to an overturn of Roe v. Wade and its declared right to abortion. That would give states more power to protect unborn babies. Multiple state legislatures are making tentative plans to return to their capitals in the coming weeks to clarify what protections for the unborn will look like moving forward.

Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation for National Right to Life, said that in most states where she’s heard of post-Dobbs session plans, it’s just talk at this point. “But I wouldn’t be surprised if, on both sides, whether it’s a pro-abortion governor or a pro-life governor, [states] call a special session once the decision is made,” she said. Here are four states where governors are considering or planning special sessions to address abortion once the Supreme Court rules in Dobbs.

Wisconsin: Gov. Tony Evers, a pro-abortion Democrat, last week called for a special session to repeal a pre-Roe state law that makes the intentional destroying of an unborn child a felony. While the law is currently unenforceable because of the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, it could take effect again should the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling overturn Roe, as a leaked draft of the opinion suggests it might.

But pro-lifers in Wisconsin don’t see that old law going anywhere. “There have been many, many pushes to actually have it removed through the years,” said Gracie Skogman, legislative director for Wisconsin Right to Life. The state Legislature’s pro-life majority has hindered those efforts, and Skogman doesn’t expect that to change in a special session. “We have already spoken to the leader of our state Senate and Assembly. And they have both assured us that that law will remain protected,” she added. “It should be a quick gavel in and gavel out for that special session.”

South Dakota: On the evening of May 2 when Politico broke the news about the leaked Dobbs draft, Republican South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem also promised to call a special session if the court overturned Roe this summer. South Dakota Right to Life Executive Director Dale Bartscher said his group is in conversations with lawmakers and the governor’s office to determine what that session will look like.

The state already has a strong pro-life law that will take effect if the Supreme Court overturns Roe. The law will protect all unborn babies from abortion except to save the life of the mother. But Bartscher said being a pro-life state is about more than banning abortion: “For us, it’s about making sure South Dakota is the best place to raise a family. So we should, for example, look at our adoptions statutes.” This past session, the Legislature passed a law requiring the state to pay for the expensive home studies required for adoptive families.

Nebraska: Republican Gov. Pete Ricketts in a May interview with CNN stated his intention to convene a special session to “do more to protect preborn babies.” But he said he would need to “wait and see what that [Dobbs] decision is before we can take further steps.” Nebraska law only protects babies from abortion after 20 weeks of gestation. Last month, a conditional law similar to South Dakota’s failed to pass the Legislature by two votes. Sandy Danek, executive director at Nebraska Right to Life, said lawmakers in a special session might return to legislation along the same lines as that bill.

But the failure of the bill raises questions about the strategy of calling a special session. Danek pointed out that special sessions are expensive and require lawmakers—many of whom are rural citizens—to leave their day jobs and return to the state capital. And what if a similar bill isn’t guaranteed to pass? “It gets a little complicated,” said Danek.

South Carolina: In Rep. John McCravy’s state, the best protection for unborn babies is a heartbeat law currently held up in the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and likely to take effect following the Dobbs ruling. That law protects babies from abortion once they have detectable heartbeats. The next step, in McCravy’s mind, is to protect unborn babies at all stages—assuming the Dobbs decision gives the states that freedom.

South Carolina Citizens for Life President Lisa Van Riper said the pro-life majority among her state’s lawmakers gives her confidence. She sees swift action as crucial to protecting both unborn babies and women: “We would be wasting precious time and putting the lives of precious children and, honestly, the lives of women at stake if we waited until January to even begin this discussion.”


Leah Savas

Leah is the life beat reporter for World News Group. She is a graduate of Hillsdale College and the World Journalism Institute and resides in Grand Rapids, Mich., with her husband, Stephen.

@leahsavas

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