The New Pro-Life Surge
The effect on the abortion rate from pain-related or ultrasound laws may not be dramatic, New said. Requiring ultrasounds can be tricky because abortion providers have to self-enforce, and relatively few abortions are performed after the second trimester, when the fetus begins to feel pain, he said.
But those laws are still important, New said. "You have to make progress incrementally. We have made more progress than we think. We've convinced a lot of people that abortion is wrong. Most doctors and hospitals want nothing to do with it."
Indeed, public opinion now lines up against abortion for the first time since Gallup began asking the question in 1995. In 2010, 47 percent of Americans called themselves pro-life, while 45 percent identified as pro-choice.
The pro-life advantage held through three surveys, prompting Gallup to label it a "real change in public opinion," one that's showing itself at the polls.
Last year's health care debate put abortion back on the national stage, and President Obama had to issue an executive order strengthening the limits on abortion to get the health care reform bill passed.
In addition, the House of Representatives passed a bill this spring that would defund Planned Parenthood, the largest abortion provider in the country. The bill failed in the Senate, but the victory in the House was historic, Yoest said.
"I absolutely think this is a swelling tide, regardless of what happens in this particular skirmish. There is very much a future in terms of bringing more and more attention to the massive federal subsidy of the abortion industry."
All this leaves the pro-choice movement "definitely defensive," said Nash of the Guttmacher Institute. "We need to make the case for why these services are important."
The public questioning of Planned Parenthood is "a major shift," said Melinda Delahoyde, president of Care Net, a network of more than 1,000 pregnancy centers.
Care Net's pregnancy centers are among the targets of the pro-choice counteroffensive. New York City's new disclosure law is "the most difficult thing we're facing," she said. The law, like the one Tryon testified against in Oregon, requires all pregnancy centers to post in waiting rooms and in all literature whether they offer or make referrals for abortions, contraception, and prenatal care. The American Center for Law and Justice is challenging the constitutionality of the law in federal court.
In January, a federal judge struck down a similar disclosure law in Baltimore, calling it an unconstitutional violation of free speech and "viewpoint-based discrimination."
"It puts onerous regulations on pregnancy centers," Delahoyde said. "It opens centers up to costly lawsuits—a right to action by aggrieved persons. There are very harsh restrictions put up all over against pregnancy centers, and we know their goal is to shut us down."
But most of the bills targeting pregnancy centers fail to pass. Two bills in Virginia—one that proposed to limit the revenue pregnancy centers receive from license plates, the other to require disclosure that abortions are not offered at the centers—were withdrawn in March. A resolution praising the work of pregnancy centers was passed instead. Another disclosure bill in Washington made it out of committee but failed in the House of Representatives.