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Conservatives Leveraging State Legislation To Pass National Antiabortion-Rights Bills

Conservatives Leveraging State Legislation To Pass National Antiabortion-Rights Bills

January 15, 2015 — Opponents of abortion rights are planning to highlight state antiabortion-rights laws to try to convince lawmakers to support similar measures in Congress, where abortion restrictions have often failed to garner enough votes to become law, National Journal reports (Novack, National Journal, 1/14).


States passed 231 antiabortion-rights laws from 2011 to 2014, during which time the number of states deemed "extremely hostile" to abortion rights increased more than threefold, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute. The report found that 15 states passed a total of 26 antiabortion-rights laws in 2014, 70 abortion restrictions in 2013 and more than 80 in 2011 (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/6).

Meanwhile, national antiabortion-rights legislation "has not fared as well" for its supporters, according to National Journal. Stakeholders attribute the difference to state legislatures having shorter sessions and tending to have less gridlock. In addition, state lawmakers tend to be more conservative, with about 10% of state lawmakers supporting abortion rights, compared with 30% of governors and about 40% of congressional lawmakers, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Abortion-Rights Opponents' Strategy

Abortion-rights opponents intend to spotlight the passage of state abortion restrictions to pressure lawmakers to support legislation that would ban abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, National Journal reports.

According to NARAL, 13 states have passed 20-week abortion bans, three of which have been blocked by courts from going into effect to date. More states are expected to consider such bans in 2015 (National Journal, 1/14).

The House is expected to vote on such a bill (HR 36) on Jan. 22, the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision. The bill would allow abortions after 20 weeks only in certain cases of rape and incest, and endangerment to a woman's life.

While the bill is expected to pass the House, it likely will fall short of the necessary votes for passage in the Senate (Women's Health Policy Report, 1/12). According to a spokesperson for Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.), the senator will release a companion bill to the House measure soon (Davis, USA Today, 1/14). Meanwhile, President Obama has said he would veto such a measure.

Graham spokesperson Kevin Bishop said, "Everyone's realistic about its chance of being signed into law. The strategy is to take a baseline vote [in the Senate] to see where everyone stands ... The general thinking is, we'll have north of 50 votes, but not 60 ... From there, we'll continue to push the issue, continue to have states push it, and continue to add to the vote total."

Bishop added, "We've strongly supported states taking up and passing [these] laws. It helps build support in Congress and move the issue to the front burner" (National Journal, 1/14).

Planned Parenthood's Richards Lambasts 20-Week Abortion Bans

Planned Parenthood Action Fund President Cecile Richards at a press briefing on Wednesday said 20-week abortion bans "do nothing to advance women's health and do everything to chip away at the right to abortion, which has been legal in this country for many, many years" (Zanona, CQ Roll Call, 1/14). She said that conservative lawmakers were "out of touch" for repeatedly focusing on legislation to restrict abortion rights and focusing less on other issues as a result.

However, Richards said she "fully expects" the Senate to block a 20-week abortion ban from being passed, adding, "We definitely expect the president to stand with us and the women's health community on these kind of attacks on women."

Further, Richards noted that states have been introducing "a record number" of bills to expand abortion rights (Ferris, The Hill, 1/14). She said that despite ongoing efforts to restrict women's health access, she is "more confident than ever that this next generation of young women and men are not going to allow their rights to be taken away" (USA Today, 1/14).

Abortion-Rights Activists Pushing Back

Similarly, other supporters of abortion rights are pushing back against the 20-week abortion ban and other antiabortion-rights measures for lacking a scientific basis and being detrimental to women's health, MedPage Today's "The Gupta Guide" reports.

In a conference call on Wednesday, Planned Parenthood of Metropolitan Washington Medical Director Jamila Perritt said, "The political attacks waged on women's health at state capitals across the country have gotten out of hand." She said "there is no benefit" for patient safety in antiabortion-rights measures that would "mandate ... certain procedures that can be performed before women can have an abortion, or ... changing the qualifications that providers and patients would have to clear in order to have the procedure."

She added, "Studies regarding fetal pain are pretty clear. At 20 weeks [gestation] there's no indication the nerves are developed and it's not touted in any science" (Frieden, "The Gupta Guide," MedPage Today, 1/14).

Similarly, Hal Lawrence, executive vice president and CEO of the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said, "There is no evidence that there's any fetal pain until you get [past] the 23 or 24 week gestation" (Breitman, Politico Pro, 1/14).

Lawrence also noted that abortions after 20 weeks gestation can be necessary when a woman's life is at risk and that they account for less than 1% of all abortions. He said, "I don't think we want to take that therapeutic option away from physicians trying to save the life of the [woman]" ("The Gupta Guide," MedPage Today, 1/14).