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On Roe Anniversary, Both Sides Grapple With Legislative, Judicial Realities

On Roe Anniversary, Both Sides Grapple With Legislative, Judicial Realities

January 22, 2014 — On the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, abortion-rights supporters and opponents are assessing their strategies in light of this year's midterm election and judicial responses to recent abortion restrictions.

GOP Control of State Legislatures Could Impede Democratic Efforts

Republicans hold the governorship and control both legislative chambers in 23 states, meaning that even if those states elect more Democrats this year, they likely cannot repeal the "record-setting" number of abortion restrictions passed since 2010, the National Journal reports.

According to a recent Guttmacher Institute report, more antiabortion-rights laws were enacted since the 2010 elections -- when Republicans won majorities in many states -- than in the entire previous decade.

Guttmacher's Elizabeth Nash said, "The pendulum swung so far to the right in the 2010 midterm that it will start swinging back in 2014, but this isn't the year of repeal."

Nonetheless, Democratic challengers in states with particularly competitive gubernatorial races -- Florida, Michigan, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Texas and Wisconsin -- are campaigning heavily on abortion-rights issues, partly because the strategy has been seen as successful in other states. For example, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe's (D) nine-point lead among women over his challenger on Election Day has been partly attributed to his attacks against the outgoing governor's antiabortion-rights stance.

However, even if Democrats win the governorships in those states, the Republican Party will still control both legislative chambers in all six states, the National Journal reports (Reinhard, National Journal, 1/21).

Abortion-Rights Opponents Mull Effectiveness of Incremental Strategy

Meanwhile, abortion-rights opponents in states that have passed numerous incremental restrictions on abortion are debating whether to maintain that approach or push farther-reaching legislation and risk court rulings that could endanger previous gains, the AP/U-T San Diego reports.

According to the AP/U-T San Diego, antiabortion-rights lawmakers in Republican-controlled states are under pressure to take more-drastic steps.

For example, lawmakers in Kansas -- which has enacted numerous incremental antiabortion-rights laws -- have recently proposed more-sweeping restrictions, including a bill that would ban abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detectable and one that would grant "inalienable rights" from the moment of conception. However, some antiabortion-rights leaders are concerned such measures could ultimately result in damaging rulings from state courts or even the Supreme Court.

Jennifer Mason, communications director for Personhood USA, said the debate over what approach to take "is nationwide right now," adding, "Many of my peers are frustrated with the past 40 years of an incremental approach."

Mary Kay Culp, executive director of Kansas for Life, said in favor of the incremental approach, "You have to take the public with you ... Or you risk backlash that puts you in a worse position than when you started" (Crary/Hanna, AP/U-T San Diego, 1/21).