Janet Porter, a longtime anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ activist who is a chief architect of “heartbeat bill” abortion restrictions, is one of countless far-right leaders who have become emboldened by the appointment of conservative judges, a complicit Trump administration, and a group of state legislatures willing to implement harsh laws.
She and many other conservatives also have a larger vision: That the chipping away of abortion rights could help prompt the Supreme Court to do away with Roe v. Wade altogether. Some harbor the dream they could take things a step further and jeopardize Obergefell v. Hodges — the 2015 decision that gave the US marriage equality.
Whether the latter is even a possibility is less certain, but the close ties between anti-abortion activism and anti-LGBTQ activism are evident in the way conservatives have simultaneously targeted the rights of women and LGBTQ Americans. The parallels between the efforts to eradicate both are further demonstrated in the way the Trump administration is targeting both in the same breath by implementing rules that allow health care providers to discriminate under the guise of religious liberty.
Porter is the founder of an anti-abortion and anti-LGBTQ nonprofit known as Faith 2 Action, which is one of many groups that align their efforts against queer and reproductive rights. Some other leading groups with that shared goal include Focus on the Family, the Heritage Foundation, and Alliance Defending Freedom.
Porter first made a splash on the nation’s legislative scene in 2011 when she helped write a proposed ban on any abortions in Ohio after six weeks. That bill was defeated in the State Senate and even opposed by Ohio Right to Life, but Porter persisted — and her thinking was a harbinger of things to come. She aligned herself with racist and anti-LGBTQ pols like former Arkansas Governor Mike Huckabee, former Minnesota Congressmmember Michele Bachmann, and Iowa Representative Steve King, according to The Guardian — and more recently, she served as a spokesperson for Roy Moore during his US Senate bid in Alabama that ultimately failed after he was embroiled in controversy over multiple allegations of sexual assault of teenagers.
Porter’s 2011 bill lit a spark that in time spread around the nation. No matter how extreme her views or her work, some of the most powerful people in the Trump White House have listened to her. Porter pitched her Ohio bill to deeply conservative Vice President Mike Pence in 2017, and now versions of that bill have been proposed in nearly a dozen states. Porter’s cause won a boost from President Donald Trump’s appointment of a pair of conservative Supreme Court justices, Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, giving state lawmakers the confidence to pass far-right laws they believe will be upheld by the nation’s highest court.
The governors of Kentucky, Ohio, Mississippi, and Georgia have signed heartbeat bills, while Alabama fueled particular outrage by approving a law that makes it a felony to perform any abortion at all — except when a pregnant woman’s health is at “serious” risk.
Porter makes clear she believes the Supreme Court will side with the heartbeat bills, which ban abortion once a fetus’ heartbeat can be detected, often as early as six or seven weeks after conception. Her organization’s website contains a highlighted sentence stating, “With the confirmation of Justice Kavanaugh, experts agree we now have the votes to uphold the HeartBeat Bill on the United States Supreme Court. Even more pro-life judges will likely be appointed to US Supreme Court in the next two years.”
During an interview with the Guardian, Porter went even further, predicting that the time is nearing for a thorough reconsideration of Roe v. Wade by the high court.
“[This is] an easy thing for the Supreme Court to embrace,” Porter said. “All they have to do is move the marker from the unscientific marker to the scientific marker of heartbeat, which is inches away from our goal of when our lives begin at conception.”
Porter is not alone in her strategy to bait the Supreme Court into reviewing Roe v. Wade. As state legislatures move to implement heartbeat and other extreme bills, their lawmakers are telling constituents what their long game is. According to the Wetumpka Herald, during a recent town hall meeting, Alabama State Senator Clyde Chambliss said that the measure adopted there “is a direct plan to challenge Roe v. Wade in the Supreme Court. I would like for you all to pray for that.”
Even as state legislators rush to embrace harsh anti-choice measure, many of them are simultaneously pushing homophobic and transphobic bills. Tennessee state lawmakers tried shoving six anti-LGBTQ bills through the State Legislature there this year. One of those bills — targeting transgender access to public bathroom consistent with gender identity — passed, and the others could be revisited soon.
In Texas, a “Save Chick-fil-A bill” that would ban the government from taking “adverse action” against businesses or people due to “religious beliefs” or “moral convictions” is regaining momentum — again under the cloak of “religious freedom.”
From Porter’s perspective, regarding marriage equality, Obergefell had not “settled the issue any more than Roe v Wade settled the issue of abortion,” The Guardian reported.
For now, the new abortion laws are on hold while courts review them. A federal judge in the Southern District of Mississippi is hearing arguments on that state’s heartbeat bill, while the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio is mounting a challenge in the Buckeye State. Further legal challenges are expected.