Both Sides' Tactics Evolve After Flood of State Antiabortion-Rights Measures

January 13, 2012 — Escalating state efforts to restrict abortion rights have revealed a split between the slow-and-steady approach of some abortion-rights opponents and the bolder steps favored by others in the movement, NPR's "Talk of the Nation" reports. Meanwhile, abortion-rights supporters are "on the defensive" as they battle a record number of bills targeting reproductive health care and rights, according to "Talk of the Nation."

NPR health policy correspondent Julie Rovner said that the 2010 elections ushered in a wave of abortion-rights opponents in Congress and in state legislatures, which in turn prompted "an enormous amount of legislation at the state level." According to Guttmacher Institute data, 135 reproductive health provisions were passed in 2011 in 36 states. Of those, 92 laws in 24 states restrict women's access to abortion.

Rovner noted that many states have passed laws that make it more costly to obtain an abortion. For example, 26 states have waiting periods for women seeking abortion care, which adds "an enormous amount of cost to women who have to travel long distances to get an abortion," Rovner said. State-mandated ultrasounds also "can add a considerable amount to what it costs to have a first-trimester abortion," while several states "have now banned insurance coverage for abortions," she said.

Abortion-rights opponents increasingly are pushing "personhood" measures that would define fertilized eggs as people with constitutional rights, thus outlawing abortion, some forms of birth control and lab procedures involving the destruction of embryos. A personhood amendment divided antiabortion-rights groups in Mississippi, with some leaders questioning the strategy.

Both Sides Weigh In

Jay Sekulo, chief counsel for the antiabortion-rights American Center for Law and Justice, said that even though Mississippi voters rejected the personhood amendment, there has been "significant progress on the life issue" in the last year.

Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, noted that one in three U.S. have an abortion during her life. She said, "What these laws are about is saying that we don't trust women to make the decision to which the Constitution entitles them, and that's the fundamental issue that is at stake here."

Northup added that 2011 saw an outpouring of support by people who have "joined with Planned Parenthood as they have been under assault, joined with groups like NARAL or the Center for Reproductive Rights, and are getting ready and are standing with us because they understand that this is a fundamental fight about American constitutional values." She continued that it is "absolutely appropriate that people discuss [abortion] as a policy issue, as a public health issue, as a moral issue in the world of debate. But as a legal matter, as a constitutional matter, the government needs to stay out of it" (Conan, "Talk of the Nation," NPR, 1/12).