The New Pro-Life Surge
- prohibiting the abortion of a fetus capable of feeling pain in Nebraska, Kansas, Idaho, and Oklahoma. The organization National Right to Life has drafted a model bill for pro-life lawmakers to use.
Republican victories in the 2010 mid-term elections account for much of the legislative surge. Republicans won control of the House of Representatives and made gains in the Senate. But their success at the state level was more significant. They took 29 governorships and 680 seats in state legislatures, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
It's the largest gain in modern history. The previous record was held by Democrats in the post-Watergate 1974 election, in which they picked up 628 seats. Republicans now control the governor's office and both legislative chambers of 21 states, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
"The November elections brought huge change in the state houses," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life. "But we've been tilling this ground for a while."
The forward momentum began, Yoest said, when the Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion in 2007.
"They chipped away at the absolute right to abortion," Yoest said. "The Supreme Court said that states do have the right to limit abortion. That was a seismic shift." Pro-life advocates began to see how far they could get with restrictions, such as parental notification and informed consent laws, she said.
The legislation has been snowballing since the Republican sweep: "Just in the first three months of this year, we've provided testimony on 17 life-related legislative matters," she said. In previous years, the average number of testimonies provided was two or three for the entire year.
Public Opinion Changes
Restricting abortion through new state laws seems to be highly effective in reducing abortion rates.
"We see that the number of abortions has gone down by 22 percent between 1990 and 2005," said Michael New, political science professor at the University of Alabama. "An important reason is the restrictions that more and more states are passing."
New examined the effects of three laws on abortion rates. Opting not to fund abortions through Medicaid was most significant, dropping state abortion rates by about 9 percent, he said.
"That's a strong consistent finding," he said, pointing to a Guttmacher report that 20 of 24 peer-reviewed studies found that public funding restrictions reduced the number of abortions. The second is informed-consent laws, which require abortion providers to inform a woman about the potential risks to her health, fetal development, and available assistance before an abortion is performed. Those laws were connected with in-state abortion reductions of 5 to 7 percent, he said.
New also analyzed parental involvement laws, which require minors to either tell or get permission from their parents before having an abortion. While these laws don't have a large impact on the overall abortion rate, they correlate with a 15 percent decline in in-state abortions obtained by minors.
Recent pro-life legislation is changing gears, pushing for laws that give women the opportunity to view an ultrasound before an abortion or banning abortion after the fetus can feel pain. Fetal-pain laws have been a big goal of National Right to Life. Director of state legislation Mary Spaulding Balch told Christianity Today, "The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act very clearly talks about the humanity of the unborn child." So far, abortion supporters have not initiated court challenges to the new fetal-pain laws.