- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Pro-life forces have legislative momentum across the country heading into 2013, but pro-choice supporters also see plenty of opportunities to win in and out of the courts, as the nation’s political clash over abortion rights shows no signs of easing ahead of the 40th anniversary this month of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

In the wake of November’s elections, 27 states now “enjoy a Republican majority in the legislature,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List, which supports pro-life candidates.

“We expect these states to be fertile ground for pro-life legislation,” she said, noting that Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, signed a pro-life omnibus bill Friday.

Groups are also cited the additions of pro-life Sens.-elect Deb Fischer of Nebraska, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Ted Cruz of Texas, as well as the appointment of Rep. Tim Scott to replace outgoing Sen. Jim DeMint of South Carolina. All are Republicans.

However, pro-choice advocates are savoring President Obama’s return to office, as well as the additions of like-minded Sens.-elect Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Tammy Baldwin of Wisconsin, and New Hampshire Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan. They also welcomed the defeat of numerous “personhood” measures that would give human rights to the unborn, as well as Florida voters’ rejection of a pro-life constitutional amendment.

Storm of pro-choice rulings

Pro-choice allies have scored victories in the courts.

For instance, the American Civil Liberties Union in Georgia sued to block the state’s new “fetal pain” law, which prohibits most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation out of concern that a fetus can feel pain at that age.

The Georgia law — the seventh of its kind in the nation — was slated to go into effect Tuesday, but a judge with the Fulton County Superior Court issued a preliminary injunction against it on Dec. 20.

“We’re glad that this dangerous, overreaching law has been put on hold,” said Chad Brock, staff attorney with the ACLU of Georgia, which represented three doctors who said the law would hurt women.

Pro-choice attorneys also won a case in Oklahoma against two abortion-regulating laws.

“A woman’s right to a full range of reproductive health care is fundamental and constitutionally protected,” Nancy Northup, president and chief executive of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said after the Oklahoma Supreme Court threw out a law that would have required a pregnant woman to view her pre-abortion ultrasound and hear a verbal explanation about it.

The state high court also ruled unconstitutional a second Oklahoma law that banned “off-label” use of chemically induced abortions.

Pro-life supporters lamented the setback. The “off-label” law was especially important because at least eight women have died of complications after receiving abortion-inducing drugs in a way that “directly contravened” the approved Food and Drug Administration protocol, said Mailee Smith of Americans United for Life. The Oklahoma Supreme Court’s decision means women are “left to the whims of an abortion industry that misuses abortion drugs for profit,” she said.

Blizzard of pro-life bills

The number of pro-choice court victories, however, pales against the blizzard of pro-life bills that have been introduced — and often enacted — across the nation as Republicans increased their strength in state after state in the past two election cycles.

From 2000 to 2011, the number of states “supportive” of abortion fell to 15, while “fully 55 percent of women of reproductive age” live in one of the 26 states considered “hostile” to abortion,” the Guttmacher Institute said in a report issued in early 2012.

State lawmakers are not finished, either: Since mid-2012, states enacted about 40 more abortion-restricting measures, Guttmacher researchers found.

This proliferation of restrictions is cited by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as a likely reason why the number of abortions is declining in the United States.

In 2009, the number of reported abortions fell to 784,507, an unusually steep 5 percent decline from the previous year, the agency said in a November report.

Moreover, the 2009 abortion rate of 15.1 abortions per 1,000 women of reproductive age was the lowest since the procedure was legalized in 1973, researchers said.

Pro-choice advocates are gearing up to fight abortion restrictions this year.

Fierce clashes forecast

Michigan’s governor said last week that the lobbying for and against the abortion bill was among the fiercest he had seen since taking office in 2011. The law requires doctors in the state to screen patients to ensure that they were not coerced into requesting an abortion and requires clinics that perform more than 120 abortions annually to be licensed.

“To be screened for coercion is a reasonable thing,” Mr. Snyder told reporters in Lansing on Friday, according to the Detroit News. “It is really a question of women’s health and safety.”

But the governor, already under fire from labor groups for signing a bill last month making Michigan a right-to-work state, can expect to face more heat from pro-choice groups.

“Republicans across the country saw the consequences of their war on women this past November, and if Gov. Snyder thinks we’re naive enough to believe his ridiculous excuses for signing this bill into law, he’s sadly mistaken,” said Michigan state Sen. Gretchen Whitmer, who called the law “disgraceful.”

But pro-life advocates promise that with new political allies in place and evidence of a growing pro-life sentiment among young Americans, they are not backing down on abortion politics, either.

“Pro-life intensity on this issue is not going to diminish anytime soon,” Mrs. Dannenfelser said.