Politico

State lawmakers are shaping the future of abortion. Watch these names.


For decades, there was only so much state lawmakers could do to control abortion. They passed laws regulating clinics, banning certain abortion methods and mandating parental consent for minors. But efforts to more broadly restrict access to the procedure were blocked by the courts.

Now, the power to decide when — and whether — abortion should be legal is squarely in their hands following the Supreme Court’s Friday ruling overturning Roe v. Wade. Already, about a dozen states have banned access to the procedure in all, or most, cases. Nearly two dozen more have laws and court rulings on the books explicitly protecting access to abortion.

And those policies are just the beginning. Republican-controlled legislatures are eyeing policies that would further restrict abortion access. Ohio lawmakers, led by Senate President Matt Huffman, may amend the state’s existing six-week abortion ban to bar access to the procedure when they return to Columbus in the fall. And while it isn’t the mainstream Republican position, some lawmakers, like Missouri state Sen. Paul Wieland, would like to go further by restricting access to emergency contraception and IUDs.

On the coasts, Democratic lawmakers, like California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins and New York state Sen. Liz Krueger, are taking the opposite tack by pushing to enshrine abortion protections in their state constitutions. But Democratic control of the legislature doesn’t mean those policies are getting rubber stamped.

In states with split legislatures, the future of abortion policy could come down to just one or two key lawmakers, like in Virginia, where Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw, a Democrat, is expected to play an instrumental role in ensuring no abortion legislation advances from the Republican-controlled House of Delegates to Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s desk.

Below, POLITICO explores how these lawmakers and others like them are expected to help shape the future of abortion policy in their states in 2022 and 2023.


Liz Brown

State SenATOR (R), Indiana

When the Supreme Court met in December to hear oral arguments in Dobbs v. Jackson, the case that ended Roe, Indiana state Sen. Liz Brown was outside rallying with other state lawmakers who oppose abortion rights.

“Let this woman legislator from Indiana Empower Women and Promote Life,” Brown’s sign read.

And that’s exactly what Brown intends to do now that the Supreme Court has ruled. State lawmakers will meet on July 6 in Indianapolis for a special session called by Republican Gov. Eric Holcomb to debate new abortion restrictions. If Republican lawmakers succeed, Indiana would be the first state to legislatively ban abortion after the fall of Roe. Abortion is currently allowed in the Hoosier State until 22 weeks of pregnancy.

“We must seize this opportunity to empower women and protect unborn human life,” Brown said in a statement on Friday. “With this ruling, we must act immediately in the upcoming special session.”

While Republican lawmakers, who have a supermajority in both chambers of the Legislature, have been mum on the specifics of their plans, abortion-rights advocates believe it’s likely the Legislature will introduce model legislation released by the National Right to Life Committee. That proposal would ban all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the pregnant person and establish a number of different enforcement mechanisms, including criminal, civil and licensing penalties.

While it isn’t yet clear who will introduce the bill, legislative observers believe Brown, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, sits on the Senate Health and Provider Services Committee and has introduced a number of abortion-related bills in her eight years in office, is a likely contender.

“Senator Liz Brown, since she came into office, has been an unrelenting anti-abortion force at the statehouse,” said Katie Blair, director of advocacy and public policy at the ACLU of Indiana. “[Brown] is truly, truly a force over at the statehouse.”

— Megan Messerly


Richard Saslaw

Senate Majority Leader (D), Virginia

Republican Gov. Glenn Youngkin on Friday said he’d like to see the Legislature pass a 15-week ban on abortions. He’s also said he’d settle for 20 weeks.

The problem? Senate Majority Leader Richard Saslaw and the Senate Democratic Caucus stand in his way. Virginia is one of two states where Republicans and Democrats split control of the legislature. While Republicans control the lower chamber, the House of Delegates, Democrats control the Senate.

“No bill is going to get out of committee,” Saslaw said in an interview.

Saslaw anticipates House Republicans will introduce a bevy of abortion-related restrictions, and Youngkin, in the wake of the Dobbs decision, tasked a group of four Republican lawmakers to develop an abortion-related bill that would garner bipartisan support. But asked whether there were any abortion-related issues he was willing to negotiate on, Saslaw was clear.

“What a woman does is nobody’s business but hers,” he said.

Virginia currently allows abortions until the third trimester of pregnancy.

While Democrats have a slim 21-19 majority in the Senate and one Senate Democrat personally opposes abortion, Saslaw is hopeful that he can hold his caucus on the issue. And anti-abortion-rights advocates aren’t optimistic about their ability to pass legislation next session because of the power Senate Democrats hold.

“Everyone who knows the General Assembly right now knows that major bills will not happen for a long time,” said Olivia Gans Turner, president of the Virginia Society for Human Life.

Breanna Diaz, policy and legislative counsel for ACLU of Virginia, called Saslaw’s role in preventing Virginia from banning abortions “pivotal.”

Pivotal, for now, that is. All eyes are on the 2023 ballot, where the outcomes of state legislative races will have significant consequences for the future of abortion policy in the state.

— Megan Messerly


Erin Grall

Representative (R), Florida

Florida state Rep. Erin Grall wasn’t picked by the Republican leaders in Tallahassee to sponsor legislation banning abortions after 15 weeks of pregenancy. For her, it was personal.

Grall said she was inspired by her sister, who struggled with mental health issues after receiving an abortion 20 years ago. Since then, Grall has been on a quest to encourage more women to oppose the procedure — and spent much of the past six years pushing abortion restrictions as a member of the state Legislature. She’s now headed for a four-year term in the state Senate after sponsoring the 15-week measure, which has no exceptions for rape or incest.

Passage of the 15-week ban was a capstone of Grall’s House career, and she blasted claims from Democrats that Republican House leaders asked her to sponsor abortion-related bills because she’s a woman.

“That’s just wrong, and that must be coming from people who don’t understand me or my heart, but women need to speak out about these issues,” Grall said shortly before the House approved the legislation in February. “Because women don’t own the pro-choice movement, the pro-abortion movement — they do not own all women.”

It’s unclear whether Grall and other state lawmakers in Florida will now pursue a complete ban on abortions in the states. She did not respond to a request for comment, placing her in line with several other state Republican lawmakers who remain reluctant to discuss the topic.

The 15-week restriction is facing a legal challenge brought by abortion-rights groups like Planned Parenthood and the American Civil Liberties Union, who say the law violates a privacy right in the state Constitution. The case is being heard in court this week.

Grall wrote in a statement after the Supreme Court’s Friday decision that the Florida Supreme Court has an opportunity to interpret the state’s privacy clause differently.

“The Supreme Court decision in Dobbs affirms the states’ constitutional authority to protect the most vulnerable and innocent among us, babies in the womb,” Grall said. “The Florida Supreme Court has an opportunity to apply a textual interpretation of Florida’s privacy clause, so we can act upon this decision and do even more to protect the preborn.”

— Arek Sarkissian


Toni Atkins

State Senate Pro Tem (D), California

California Senate President Pro Tem Toni Atkins won’t forget the distraught mother whose daughter died from an illegal abortion. Atkins was working as the clinical services director of a San Diego women’s health clinic early in her career when she met the woman.

“Her story has never left me. It haunts me even today,” Atkins, the primary author of a measure asking California voters to enshrine the right to choose abortion and contraception in the state constitution, told her colleagues during the measure’s committee hearings this month.

The proposed amendment will appear on the November ballot after lawmakers approved it on Monday. 

The San Diego Democrat, driven by her first-hand experiences and a long-standing commitment to women’s health, has done more to try to shore up abortion rights in the state than any other legislator, according to reproductive health advocates. “This is her legacy,” said Shannon Olivieri Hovis, head of NARAL Pro-Choice California.

Atkins, 59, the first woman and openly LGBTQ person to lead the California Senate, serves on the Legislative Women’s Caucus and on the steering committee for the Future of Abortion Council, which Gov. Gavin Newsom established in the fall in the wake of Texas’ six-week abortion ban.

The FAB council produced a list of recommendations late last year that evolved into a package of more than a dozen abortion-related bills members of the caucus introduced early this year.

— Victoria Colliver


Matt Huffman

Senate President (R), Ohio

His mom helped found one of Ohio’s first crisis pregnancy centers after the Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right to abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. Now that the court has reversed itself nearly 50 years later, he is poised to help the Buckeye State ban almost all abortions.

Meet Matt Huffman, 62, president of the Ohio Senate.

“From a practical, real life perspective, he’s lived it,” said Mike Gonidakis, president of Ohio Right to Life. “He’s lived the pro-life movement his entire life.”

Abortion is currently illegal in Ohio after the detection of a fetal cardiac activity, which usually happens around six weeks of pregnancy. But Republicans in the Ohio Legislature, led by Huffman and Speaker Robert Cupp, are poised to go even further this fall, banning all abortions unless necessary to save the life of the pregnant person.

But Huffman also believes other states’ trigger laws have been too broad. In an interview, he said he wants Ohio’s bill to be specific — for instance, defining what types of conditions would put the pregnant person’s life in jeopardy. He is also waiting to see what kinds of legal challenges might arise against existing Ohio laws so that lawmakers can close any potential “loopholes,” he said.

“You’ve got a pro-life Senate, House and a pro-life governor,” Huffman said. “But the specific language — we need to get it right.”

Huffman said he doesn’t have a timeframe for the bill’s passage, though he thinks it will be in November or December, after the midterm election. Kellie Copeland, executive director of Pro-Choice Ohio, believes that’s because an abortion ban would be “extremely unpopular” politically and Republicans won’t want to rock the boat.

But Huffman said coming back to Columbus after the election is “always sort of the timing of this.” Plus, he said, he wants to take the time to get the policy right.

“This is obviously a very big deal,” Huffman said. “Maybe the biggest deal that I’ve had in the General Assembly since I’ve been here.”

— Megan Messerly


Liz Krueger

State SenATOR (D), New York

State Sen. Liz Krueger has led New York’s charge to shore up reproductive health and abortion access for more than a decade in Albany, sponsoring key bills that enshrined rights under Roe v. Wade in state law in 2019 and — more recently— bolstered protections for abortion providers and patients.

The Manhattan Democrat co-chairs the New York State Bipartisan Pro-Choice Legislative Caucus, a group she helped form in 2011. She was one of just 14 state lawmakers from across the U.S. — and the only one from New York — to take part in a late-May White House discussion on protecting reproductive health access. And she has long pushed to secure abortion rights in New York state’s constitution, albeit unsuccessfully.

Some have criticized Krueger’s approach to protect abortion access through a state equal rights amendment that would prohibit discrimination based on a person’s pregnancy and pregnancy outcomes. The proposal has ruffled feathers in Albany for years amid concerns that it doesn’t include religion in its list of protected classes.

When the amendment failed to move again at the end of the 2022 session as lawmakers again could not agree on final language, Krueger — along with Assemblymember Rebecca Seawright — was among those facing the blame.

“I’m not giving up, it’s just, live to fight another day,” Krueger said.

Seawright — who once worked for Sarah Weddington, a lawyer who successfully argued before the U.S. Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade — pushed a measure that included a person’s pregnancy and “creed or religion” before offering a companion version to Krueger’s proposal in a last-ditch effort to move the issue. (She’s since called for bringing “all the stakeholders together” to hammer out language “everybody can live with.”)

— Shannon Young


Paul Wieland

State SenATOR (R), Missouri

Missouri state Sen. Paul Weiland has fought abortion rights for more than a decade. In 2013, he sued seeking special exemption from the state’s insurance plan because it covered contraception. He said it violated his family’s First Amendment right to freedom of religion.

“I see abortion-inducing drugs as intrinsically evil,” Weiland, who is Catholic, said at the time. “And I cannot in good conscience preach one thing to my kids and then just go with the flow on our insurance.”

He’s fought contraception ever since. In 2020, he pushed a measure that would limit the availability of birth control drugs, IUDs or emergency contraception. The bill didn’t pass, so in the last legislative session, he brought it up again in an amendment to a larger piece of legislation.

The proposal threatened to compromise federal funding to Medicaid, so the amendment was stripped out.

Weiland isn’t seeking re-election, but he’s working behind the scenes to help elect a state House member to his seat to continue efforts to fight contraceptive services when the legislature reconvenes in January.

In the meantime, Missouri’s “trigger ban” to immediately end abortions in the state once Roe v. Wade was overturned is now in effect. Gov. Mike Parson issued a proclamation and Attorney General Eric Schmitt issued an opinion on Friday enacting the abortion ban after the Supreme Court ruling.

— Shia Kapos


Nancy Barto

State SenATOR (R), Arizona

Before the Supreme Court’s Friday ruling, which came in a case triggered by Mississippi’s 15-week abortion ban, Arizona state Sen. Nancy Barto had already crafted similar legislation in her state. The proposal put her at the forefront of state lawmakers looking to take control of abortion policy and could set her up to push even more restrictive legislation in the future.

Barto’s bill, which was signed by Republican Gov. Doug Ducey earlier this year, prohibits a physician from performing an abortion after 15 weeks of gestation, except in a medical emergency. The law is slated to take effect in late September.

But with Roe no longer in the way, the state’s pre-Roe ban — which prohibits all abortions except to save the life of the pregnant person — could take effect even sooner, if a 1973 court injunction is lifted, Barto told POLITICO in a statement.

The uncertainty surrounding the old law, which has been on the books since Arizona was a territory of the United States, is creating confusion in the state. Planned Parenthood has already stopped providing abortions until the courts offer some clarification.

It’s unclear what Barto will do if the old law is not in effect.

“I will be watching that process closely, as well as any other judicial actions, before considering any further changes to our laws,” she said.

— Shia Kapos

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