The last four years have already seen the passage of an extraordinary number of abortion-restricting measures, and advocates on both sides of the abortion issue are gearing up for even bigger battles this year.
Some 231 measures limiting or regulating abortion have been enacted since 2011, researchers with the Guttmacher Institute said in a report issued Monday.
This tally stands in stark contrast to the 1990s and early 2000s, when fewer than 20 anti-abortion measures passed in a typical year.
With the Republican sweep in the 2014 midterm elections, there is “good reason to be concerned” about fresh efforts to restrict abortion, wrote Elizabeth Nash and her colleagues at Guttmacher Institute.
Republicans “solidified their dominance” in the 2014 elections, and now control the legislature in 30 states, three more than in 2014, they wrote. Moreover, in 23 states led by Republican lawmakers, the governor is also a Republican.
Democrats, who are typically more dedicated to protecting abortion rights, control both the legislature and the governor’s mansion in just seven states.
This means supporters of reproductive rights must “hold the line” on abortion, both in the states and in Congress, where Republicans now control both legislative chambers, Planned Parenthood Action said recently.
On the pro-life side, activists are rejoicing in the steadily diminishing abortion numbers and abortion clinics — both trends they attribute to laws that limit abortions in various ways.
In 1990, there were 1.6 million abortions, whereas today there are about 1 million, Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee (NRTL), said in a New Year’s statement.
While both numbers are “tragic statistics,” the newer number means that 23,000 unborn children have been “saved from abortion each and every day,” she wrote.
“2015 promises to be an even better year, as newly elected pro-life officials will give unborn babies a stronger voice in Congress and in state legislatures,” Ms. Tobias added.
Another pro-life group, Operation Rescue, said the number of surgical abortion facilities has fallen from a peak of more than 2,100 in 1991 to about 551 in 2014.
Another 188 facilities provide only medication or chemical abortions — for a total of 739 — and more clinics could close in 2015, once courts clear lawsuits blocking clinic regulations from going into effect, said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue.
Another pro-life victory is passage of an amendment in Tennessee that is intended to trump a court ruling and free state lawmakers to craft laws regulating abortion there.
A group of pro-choice supporters in Tennessee have sued to block Amendment 1 — a court hearing is scheduled for Jan. 12 — but some state lawmakers have already introduced abortion-restricting bills, according to local media.
NRTL and Live Action, founded by Lila Rose, have also written that Utah and Illinois have both experienced low abortion rates after passing laws that, respectively, require a 72-hour waiting period for an abortion and notification to a parent or guardian about a teen’s intention to have an abortion.
Pro-choice groups claimed victories in 2014, too: They defeated two pro-life amendments in Colorado and North Dakota and elected a number of pro-choice politicians, including Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe.
They have also won in the courts — in December, the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rejected a North Carolina law that required an abortionist to discuss a woman’s pre-abortion ultrasound, even if she didn’t want to see it or hear about it.
The North Carolina ruling — and other courtroom defeats of pro-life laws — send “a message to lawmakers across the country” that “it is unconstitutional for politicians to interfere in a woman’s personal medical decisions about abortion,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
Planned Parenthood, the Center for Reproductive Rights and 60 allies have urged pro-choice state lawmakers to go on the offensive, and adopt “forward-looking and innovative policies” that support abortions.
However, according to Guttmacher, policy battles are likely to center to such things as bans on abortions after a certain time period, such as 20-weeks gestation; buffer zones around abortion clinics; pre-abortion counseling and waiting periods and rules regarding abortions done with pills.