Alabama on Thursday officially became the fifth state in the nation to restrict abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the latest in a wave of new state efforts to curb the practice this year.
“It’s just great to have a law on the books. … It’s a great moral victory as well as legal,” said Rev. James Henderson, director of the Alabama Alliance Against Abortion.
The Alabama statute relies on what supporters say is scientifically-based evidence that fetuses can feel pain at that stage of life, and tracks a similar measure approved in Nebraska last year.
“When the first law on this passed in Nebraska, the impact was almost immediate: The abortionist who performed abortions on pain-capable children stopped doing them,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation at the National Right to Life Committee. “I think it will have a similar impact in the state of Alabama.”
But pro-choice organizations question the science behind fetal pain, and already an Idaho woman has filed a class-action lawsuit against that state’s law.
“Fetal pain” laws - which are also newly in effect in Kansas and Oklahoma - are among an unprecedented 83 laws passed this year to regulate and curb abortion, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
The 2010 elections brought in as many as 600 new pro-life state legislators, according to Americans United for Life, and activists have seized the chance to capitalize on their strength. One priority is to “detach any taxpayer money from abortion services,” said Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List.
Pro-choice groups condemn the spate of new laws as hostile to women’s reproductive rights and have taken many states to court. The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR) said it is “now carrying the largest active caseload in its history,” and has filed lawsuits against “some of the most heinous laws enacted this session.”
Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the family planning organization that is the nation’s largest provider of abortion services, and the American Civil Liberties Union have also joined many of the lawsuits as well.
Idaho’s new fetal-pain law is being challenged by Jennie Linn McCormack, a mother of three who used RU-486 drugs she obtained online to terminate a second-trimester pregnancy earlier this year.
Ms. McCormack was prosecuted for violating a 1972 law, but had her case dismissed for lack of evidence. She has since filed a class-action lawsuit against the 1972 law and the new fetal-pain law, saying both laws pose unconstitutional barriers to women’s right to abortion. A hearing is set for Sept. 8.
Among the lawsuits filed by pro-choice organizations:
• In Indiana, Planned Parenthood is challenging sections of an abortion bill that deny Medicaid funds to Planned Parenthood and require new counseling for women considering an abortion. U.S. District Court Tanya Walton Pratt ruled in favor of a temporary injunction of the law; the case is on appeal to 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
• In Kansas, U.S. District Judge J. Thomas Marten ruled that a new budget provision that blocks funds to Planned Parenthood was unconstitutional. The Kansas attorney general’s office filed an appeal in the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals. A judge ruled Aug. 30 that the state must continue to pay Planned Parenthood for now.
• In North Carolina, a budget law, enacted over the Democratic governor’s veto, specifically prohibits Planned Parenthood from receiving funds from the state. Planned Parenthood sued and is awaiting a decision from U.S. District Court Judge James A. Beaty Jr. The state must pay Planned Parenthood in the meantime, the judge said last month.