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May 21, 2019

Study guide: Alabama and Missouri pass laws restricting access to abortion



Directions: Read the summary, watch the videos and answer the discussion questions below.* You may want to turn on the “CC” (closed-captions) function and read along with the transcript here. Questions below will address the video through the 2m:03s mark. To learn more, watch the rest of the interview with reporters discussing Alabama’s law, the most restrictive abortion law now on record, and how some states like Vermont are working to preserve abortion rights into the future.


Summary: Several states have recently passed legislation that will test the limits of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court landmark ruling which legalized abortion nationwide. Alabama and Missouri enacted laws last week outlawing abortion under almost all circumstances, setting up a legal battle that may challenge Roe v. Wade. A woman must get an abortion within six weeks in Alabama and eight weeks in Missouri, which can be a significant health care challenge since many women do not know they are pregnant in that time period.


In the latest Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans said they believe abortion should be legal, at least in some circumstances. In Alabama and Missouri, the new laws forbidding abortion make no exception in the cases of rape or incest. In Alabama (learn about their state legislature here), health care providers may be punished up to 99 years in prison for performing an abortion; and up to 15 years in Missouri. Licenses to practice medicine would be suspended or possibly revoked. The laws will not be enforced right away because they will face immediate challenge in the courts.


The bills in several states (see map), referred to as “heartbeat” bills, argue about the time of viability of the fetus while opponents argue that women’s health care is not properly being explained by lawmakers. While the laws have been supported by anti-abortion advocates, some prominent conservatives like Rev. Pat Robertson and President Donald Trump have distanced themselves from the laws, stating they are too restrictive.



Discussion questions:


1) Essential question: Why have several states recently passed laws severely restricting abortion?


2) What factors do most of these recent bills have in common? How are they different from previous laws restricting abortion that have passed at the state level?


3) Why has abortion continued to be a subject of debate in the U.S.?


4) What do you know about federalism (a system in which state and federal government holds power)? Do you agree that states should be allowed to pass their own laws limiting abortion? Why or why not?


5) In the latest Gallup poll, 79 percent of Americans said they believe abortion should be legal, at least in some circumstances. In Alabama and Missouri, the new laws forbid abortion, including in the cases of rape or incest.


  • Why do you think state legislatures have passed laws that even conservative anti-abortion advocates like Pat Roberston have called too restrictive?


  • Why might these anti-abortion supporters be concerned of a law that is too restrictive in nature being brought in front of the Supreme Court?


6) What role does the judicial branch play in dealing with lawsuits filed in reaction to this recent wave of laws? Read this article to learn more: Planned Parenthood and ACLU suing over Ohio abortion ban. What are the main arguments pro-choice groups like Planned Parenthood and the ACLU will make in their lawsuits?


7) How might recent state abortion laws affect the 2020 presidential election?  Do you think it will become a key issue? Why or why not? Democratic candidates running in Election 2020 have spoken up on the issue. Read these articles to learn more: “Warren unveils abortion rights platform following new laws” and Gillibrand says she’d seek to codify abortion rights as president.” What arguments do these candidates make? What does it mean to codify abortion law into federal law?


8) Media literacy: Check three to five news organizations to see how they are covering the abortion ban issue. What headlines are you seeing? What experts were interviewed? Are both pro-choice and anti-abortion individuals interviewed? Republicans and Democrats? Do you think the articles do a good job presenting multiple sides of the issue? Explain.


Extension activities:


The debate over abortion has been going on for many years. Support for the bills leans heavily along political party lines. A Pew Research study found that 59 percent of Republicans say abortion should be illegal in all or most cases, while 76 percent of Democrats say it should be legal. Why do you think there is a divide along political parties?


  • Like any issue, it is important to learn various perspectives on the subject, so that you are informed and can form your own opinion.Use the website ProCon.org to assist you, since it provides multiple sources and viewpoints on the subject: https://abortion.procon.org/ and create a plan for how your class could hold a thoughtful, evidence-based debate on abortion. 


For monthly updates containing teacher resources on Election 2020, click here.

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*Teachers: NewsHour Extra’s “Daily News Stories” provide middle and high school classes with information on current events and issues. They are not comprehensive lessons or units, and it is presumed that the teacher, and in some cases students, come to the activity with prior knowledge of the subject. For an in-depth look at key issues, see the “Lesson Plans” and “Subject Areas” sections of the site.

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