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Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington. (AP) Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington. (AP)

Demonstrators protest outside of the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday, May 3, 2022 in Washington. (AP)

Jon Greenberg
By Jon Greenberg May 5, 2022

Do Republicans want to throw doctors who break abortion laws in jail? Their plans say yes

If Your Time is short

  • Over a dozen Republican-controlled states have passed abortion laws that permit jail sentences for doctors.

  • 45 Republicans in the U.S. Senate sponsored or co-sponsered the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, that would impose a prison sentence of up to five years.

The day after the leak of Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito’s draft opinion reversing Roe v. Wade, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent lawmakers and candidates suggested talking points on abortion.

The May 3 guidance advised Republicans to show compassion for pregnant women, criticize Democratic positions, and emphasize "the facts" about Republican policies.

One of those facts was: "Republicans DO NOT want to throw doctors and women in jail. Mothers should be held harmless under the law."

We focused on the comittee’s statement about not wanting to throw doctors in jail because Republican-controlled states have included prison sentences for doctors in recently passed laws that restrict abortion. (The risk of prison for mothers is less clear.)

In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill on April 14 that, with some exceptions, bans abortions after 15 weeks. Doctors that violate the law are guilty of a third degree felony. That carries a maximum penalty of five years in prison.

On April 12, Oklahoma Gov. Kevin Stitt signed a bill that increased the penalties for abortion. The key section said, "A person convicted of performing or attempting to perform an abortion shall be guilty of a felony punishable by a fine not to exceed $100,000, or by confinement in the custody of the Department of Corrections for a term not to exceed 10 years." 

On June 16, 2021, Texas Gov. Greg Abbott signed the Human Life Protection Act. It prohibits any abortion, except to save the life of the mother or prevent the "substantial impairment of a major bodily function." Under the new law, a person performing an abortion faces a minimum penalty of five years in prison. The maximum penalty is life.

Alabama’s Gov. Kay Ivey signed a bill that banned abortion, with few exceptions, on May 15, 2019. A federal judge put the law on hold, but under it, a person performing an abortion faces at least 10 years and as many as 99 years in prison.

In each state, Republicans control both legislative chambers, as well as the governor’s office.

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The list continues. Over a dozen states have "trigger" laws that would take effect if the court overturns Roe v. Wade. Additional states have penalties in their current abortion laws.

To the four Republican-controlled states listed above, we can add Arkansas, Georgia, Idaho, Iowa, Missouri, North Dakota, South Dakota, South Carolina, Tennessee, Utah and Wyoming. In each state, a doctor found guilty of breaking the law faces a possible, or in some cases, a mandatory prison sentence.

Sen. Rick Scott, chair of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, himself co-sponsored a bill in Congress, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, that would impose a prison sentence of up to five years. The proposal was sponsored or  co-sponsored by 44 other Republican members of the U.S. Senate.

When Scott was Florida governor, he signed a 2013 bill that imposed a maximum penalty of a year in jail for violating the state’s new abortion law.

When asked for supporting information about the treatment of doctors in Republican states, the National Republican Senatorial Committee sent none.

Our ruling

In a memo to Republican candidates and lawmakers, the National Republican Senatorial Committee said that Republicans do not want to throw doctors in jail for violating abortion laws.

Many Republican-controlled states have penalties for people who perform illegal abortions that include prison sentences, including a maximum of life imprisonment. In the U.S. Senate, a proposal with a potential prison sentence was co-sponsored by nearly the entire Republican caucus. 

We rate this claim Pants on Fire.

Related: What would state laws look like in a post-Roe world?

 

Our Sources

Axios, Scoop: Senate Republicans share abortion talking points, May 3, 2022

Florida House of Representatives, Reducing fetal and infant 3 mortality, April 15, 2022

Florida Code - chapter 390, Termination of pregnancies, accessed May 4, 2022

Florida Code - chapter 775, Penalties; applicability of sentencing structures; mandatory minimum sentences for certain reoffenders previously released from prison, accessed May 4, 2022

Oklahoma Senate, Bill 612, April 6, 2022

Texas Legislature, HB 1280, June 16, 2021

LegisScan, Alabama Human Life Protection Act, May 15, 2019

FindLaw, Alabama Code Title 13A. Criminal Code § 13A-5-6, Jan. 1, 2019

Governor of Alabama, Governor Ivey Issues Statement After Signing the Alabama Human Life Protection Act, May 15, 2019

U.S. Congress, Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, Jan. 27, 2021

Tampa Bay Times, Rick Scott signs abortion bill into law, June 5, 2013

Kaiser Family Foundation, 21 States Impose Jail Time for Doctors Who Perform Abortions Beyond State Established Limits, 2021

National Council of State Legislatures, State Partisan Composition, Feb. 2, 2022

New York Times, What is a trigger law? And which states have them?, May 4. 2022

PolitiFact, What would state laws look like in a post-Roe world?, May 3, 2022

Email exchange, Chris Hartline, director of communication, National Republican Senatorial Committee, May 4, 2022

Email exchange, Alina Salganicoff, vice president and director for Women’s Health Policy, Kaiser Family Foundation, May 4, 2022

 

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Do Republicans want to throw doctors who break abortion laws in jail? Their plans say yes

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