abortion laws

Do Republicans Want to Throw Doctors Who Break Abortion Laws in Jail? Their Plans Say Yes

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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 committee'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.

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PolitiFact: Republican Guidelines on Doctors Breaking Abortion Laws

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.

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.

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