NEW YORK — Buoyed by conservative gains in the November election, foes of abortion are mobilizing on behalf of bills in several state legislatures that would further curtail women’s access to the procedure.
On both sides of the debate, activists are highlighting their hopes and concerns in conjunction with Thursday’s 42nd anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision in 1973 that established a nationwide right to abortion. Since then, there have been more than 50 million abortions in the U.S.
Coinciding with the annual March for Life in Washington, the Republican-controlled U.S. House of Representatives had planned a debate Jan. 22 on a bill that would ban most abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage.
However, the House leadership decided late Jan. 21 to scrap those plans after objections from GOP women and other lawmakers left them short of votes.
Several proposed bills at the state level may have a better chance of enactment.
Notable among them is a first-of-its-kind measure being drafted in Kansas, with the backing of the National Right to Life Committee, which would ban doctors from using forceps, tongs or other medical implements to dismember a living fetus in the womb to complete an abortion.
Proponents have titled the bill the Unborn Child Protection from Dismemberment Abortion Act and say it targets a procedure used in about 8 percent of abortions in Kansas.
“Dismemberment abortion kills a baby by tearing her apart limb from limb,” said National Right to Life’s Director of State Legislation, Mary Spaulding Balch, who hopes the Kansas bill will be emulated in other states.
Planned Parenthood of Kansas and Mid-Missouri has vowed to fight the bill “every step of the way.”
“Kansas women are smart enough to make their own decisions about their families and their lives,” said a Planned Parenthood spokeswoman, Elise Higgins.
Among other measures surfacing in state legislatures:
— Bills in West Virginia and South Carolina that would — like the measure in the U.S. House — ban abortions after 20 weeks of gestation. A similar bill was vetoed in West Virginia last year by Democratic Gov. Earl Ray Tomblin, but Republicans now control both chambers of the legislature and may have better prospects for overriding another veto.
— A bill in Arkansas that would require women seeking abortion-inducing medication to take it in the presence of a doctor. Supporters of the bill say they want to prevent any instances of abortion medication being administered from afar by a physician using video conferencing technology.
— A bill in Mississippi that would increase the minimum waiting time from 24 hours to 72 hours before a woman could obtain an abortion.
— A bill in Missouri that would require pregnant women to get permission from the fathers before having abortions, except in cases of rape and incest.
— Several anti-abortion measures are expected in Tennessee, where voters in November overturned a court ruling holding that abortion was protected by the state constitution as part of a woman’s fundamental right to privacy.
According to abortion rights groups, about 230 laws restricting abortion have been enacted nationwide in the past four years.
Activists on both sides of the issue suggest there might be fewer such bills winning approval this year, in part because some conservative states already have adopted the most common restrictive laws and in part because of political caution by GOP leaders in swing states.
“There are some politicians who’d rather not take a position on any controversial issue, especially when they’re looking for higher office,” said Spaulding Balch.
Jennifer Dalven, an abortion rights lawyer who directs the American Civil Liberties Union’s Reproductive Freedom Project, suggested that some of the Republican governors and other GOP leaders eying presidential runs in 2016 may shy away from backing some of the toughest anti-abortion measures.
“Politicians are starting to understand this is politically toxic,” she said. “They can’t win if they are seen as wanting to take this decision out of women’s hands.”
Several of the most sweeping measures passed by state lawmakers in recent years have been blocked by court rulings and remain in limbo.
These include a Texas law imposing regulations that could force many abortion clinics to close, an Arkansas law that would ban most abortions after 12 weeks and a North Dakota law that could ban abortion as early as six weeks into pregnancy.
As is customary, the days leading up to Jan. 22 have featured numerous abortion-related events, including statehouse rallies in several states, news conferences by leading activists and the release of advocacy groups’ state-by-state report cards. California and Washington state were the only states getting A-plusses from the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, while Louisiana, Mississippi, Kansas and Oklahoma got the highest scores from Americans United for Life, an anti-abortion group.
(DAVID CRARY, AP National Writer)