Politics

Challenges to Abortion

States are the main forum for debate on reproductive issues, and the trend is for greater restriction.
by | February 2006

As has been the case for three decades now, most of the attention in the ongoing abortion wars is fixed on the U.S. Supreme Court. Confirmation of the pair of conservative judges nominated by President Bush will not spell the end of Roe v. Wade. But a decision on the constitutionality of a New Hampshire law requiring parental notification--expected this spring--could make it clearer to states whether they must continue to allow abortions whenever the health of the woman is at risk.

Regardless of the ruling in this particular case, however, or in any abortion case that comes before the court in the near future, most of the action on abortion issues will take place in state legislatures, where it takes place every year. And the long-term trend of adopting incremental restrictions will continue. "This will be an interesting year," predicts Daniel McConchie, director of public policy for Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group. "We do see some increased momentum."

Laws requiring counseling for women who seek abortions are now commonplace across the country. Numerous states are looking at enacting more specific demands. Last year, 19 legislatures considered bills requiring that women who visit abortion clinics be told fetuses can feel pain at a certain point in gestation. Three of these measures were enacted.

Fetal pain and ultrasound bills will be common in state legislatures this year, says Elizabeth Nash, of the pro-choice Alan Guttmacher Institute. In addition, she predicts renewed debates over whether to let pharmacists refuse to fill contraceptive prescriptions on religious or moral grounds. Several states will think about tightening sanitary and health regulation of abortion clinics.

Even if Roe is overturned, abortion will remain legal in much of the country for a considerable period. Several states have sent clear signals that they will outlaw the practice as soon as they are constitutionally free to do so. But pro-life activists in a larger number of states will find it difficult to muster the requisite support for making abortion a crime. Still, whatever the future of Roe or the Supreme Court's stand on abortion in general, it is safe to predict that many states will continue to enact barriers, passing new laws to test the parameters of abortion rights.

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