Abortion Foes Intensify Efforts at State Level
By Kathleen Murphy, Staff Writer
More than 500 bills that would restrict abortion were introduced in state legislatures this year as opponents of the controversial medical procedure continued to chip away at Roe v. Wade, the landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision giving women the right to terminate a pregnancy.
The flurry of legislation led to passage of first-of-a-kind laws in Arkansas and Georgia - and this month in the Minnesota Legislature - that require women who want an abortion either to be told about fetal pain or offered anesthesia to help eliminate pain to the fetus.
In Mississippi, a state with only one abortion clinic and some of the most restrictive anti-abortion laws in the nation, Gov. Haley Barbour (R) signed a bill limiting some abortions to hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers. A 2004 law effectively banned early second trimester abortions at clinics but was struck down in court. The new law, not yet challenged, requires abortions after the first trimester be performed in clinics that meet standards for surgical facilities.
Arkansas and Idaho enacted measures requiring parental consent for minors seeking an abortion, bringing to 35 the number of states compelling some form of parental involvement -- either notification or permission from one or both parents, a grandparent or adult sibling, depending on the state. Courts have struck down laws requiring parental involvement in nine other states. The fate of an initiative that would require parental notification in California will be decided by that state's voters in 2006.
Abortion foes had mixed results this year in blocking women's access to emergency contraception pills which act in most cases by preventing ovulation or fertilization but which also may prevent a fertilized egg from becoming implanted in the uterus. New Hampshire became the seventh state this year -- besides Maine, Alaska, California, Hawaii, Washington and New Mexico -- to have laws allowing the so-called "morning after pill," to be obtained without a prescription.
Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney (R) vetoed a similar measure July 25, and New York Gov. George Pataki (R) is weighing a veto of legislation passed in his state.
In an op ed piece in The Boston Globe , Romney said he would have violated a campaign promise were he to sign the bill.
"I pledged that I would not change our abortion laws either to restrict abortion or to facilitate it.… I have spoken with medical professionals to determine whether the drug contemplated under the bill would simply prevent conception or whether it would also terminate a living embryo after conception. Once it became clear that the latter was the case, my decision was straightforward," Romney wrote.
Matthew Wilson, a political scientist at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, said the legislative flurry was due in part to the fact that anti-abortion groups were demanding payback for conservative political gains that they helped bring about.
Democrats have been losing legislative seats at the state level for more than 25 years. In 1976, Democrats held nearly 70 percent of legislative seats, but now, the parties are more evenly split.
"A lot of the pro-life forces felt like, now it's time to see tangible action from these Republican majorities that they helped to create at the state level," Wilson said.
John Seery, a professor at Pomona College in Pomona, Calif., and an expert on abortion politics, agreed. "The evangelical right is no longer just a fringe part of the Republican Party that can be mollified through symbolic and rhetorical gestures. They want results. It's payback time. Quid pro quo," Seery said.
Seery said anti-abortion groups' strategy has been to chip away at abortion rights while waiting until the legal landscape changes at the federal level.
One of the first cases to confront Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's successor on the U.S. Supreme Court this fall involves a New Hampshire law requiring one parent of a woman under 18 to be notified of an abortion in advance. A lower court said the law should have had a provision allowing minors to have an abortion without parental approval in cases of medical emergencies.
Most new restrictions on abortion came out of GOP-controlled legislatures this session: Arizona, Georgia, Idaho, Indiana, Kansas, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota and Texas. The only Democratic legislatures to pass restrictive abortion laws this year were in Arkansas and Mississippi.
South Dakota's new law would make abortion illegal except when necessary to save the life of the woman if the U.S. Supreme Court were to overturn Roe v. Wade. Similar laws are on the books in 19 other states.