CHRISTIANITY TODAY/November 3, 1989
In light of the Supreme Court’s Webster decision, prolife activists focus on states as the new abortion battlefields.
Last month brought a flurry of activity on the state level as a re-energized prolife movement began attempts to take advantage of the Supreme Court’s Webster decision, which gave states more room to regulate abortions (CT, Aug. 18, 1989, p. 36).
In Pennsylvania, 8,000 prolife demonstrators gathered October 3 at the state capitol in Harrisburg as Rep. Stephen Freind introduced the Abortion Control Act. “We viewed the Webster decision as a window of opportunity,” Freind said. “As soon as it came down, we began to work on new legislation.”
Included in the bill are an “informed consent” provision that requires a woman be informed about the abortion procedure, potential risks, and alternatives, and then wait 24 hours before obtaining an abortion; a requirement that a husband be notified before his spouse’s abortion; a ban on sex-selection abortions; and a ban on the use of aborted fetuses for medical research. Freind openly acknowledges the bill is designed to challenge Roe v. Wade directly. “The [Supreme] Court appears to be inviting state legislatures to pass additional legislation that would permit them to look at the very fabric of Roe,” he said. The bill has the endorsement of Robert Casey, the state’s Democratic governor.
In Florida the following week, an estimated 20,000 activists from both sides of the issue descended on Tallahassee as the state became the first to devote a special legislative session to debate abortion. Republican Gov. Bob Martinez proposed a package of abortion limitations, including testing for fetal viability after the first trimester, restricting abortions in publicly funded facilities, and increasing state regulation of abortion clinics. But House and Senate committees kept the bills from being debated in the full legislature, and the special session concluded without any new legislation. Martinez vowed that the issue “is not something that will disappear” in the state.
Some of the prolife momentum in Florida was marred by an October 5 state supreme court decision overturning a state law that required minors to have parental consent before an abortion. The court said the law violated privacy rights guaranteed to women and minors under the state constitution. The justices unanimously agreed that Florida’s 1980 privacy provision includes the right to abortion, at least until the fetus becomes viable. Many Florida activists fear the decision signals that changes in their state will have to come through an amended constitution rather than the legislature.
In other states: Illinois held hearings on a proposed law similar to the Missouri statute that the Supreme Court upheld in July. Michigan held hearings on proposed parental-consent legislation. Washington activists launched an initiative to get 200,000 signatures on an informed-consent proposal that they hope the legislature will consider next spring. And in Louisiana, a three-judge federal panel heard arguments on renewed enforcement of a 134-year-old law that criminalizes abortion.
Most other states will not take up the issue until early 1990, when the majority of state legislatures reconvene.
Directing The Attack
National prolife groups have been stepping up their emphasis on state strategy in order to direct a coordinated attack against abortion. The National Right to Life Committee (NRLC), for example, has created a new g state legislative division in its Washington, D.C., headquarters and has hired new staff. The organization last month gathered legislators and lobbyists from all 50 states to set their prolife agenda. “Today the counterattack begins,” proclaimed Jackie Ragan, NRLC’s director of state organization development.
The group assembled a package of eight “mainstream, reasonable” model bills for states to pick from, which address the following ends: preventing abortion as a means of birth control; banning sex-selection abortions; mandating that women receive accurate information before an abortion; factoring fathers’ rights into the abortion decision; involving parents in minors’ abortion decisions; prohibiting abortions by government-supported facilities or state employees; funding agencies that provide alternatives to abortions; providing funds for antiabortion public information efforts.
The NRLC is particularly pleased about the potential of the “abortion as birth control” bill, which would prohibit abortions for all reasons except when the life of the mother is in danger, when the woman could suffer severe physical consequences as a result of the pregnancy, forcible rape, incest, and when the child would be “profoundly physically and mentally handicapped.” The group says the bill would eliminate “at least 93 percent” of all abortions.
NRLC cites several polls (see chart on p. 38) to bolster the claim that their proposals have broad public support. Ragan said the proposals “do not seek everything the prolife movement would like to achieve,” but take major steps in that direction.
The prolife legal firm Americans United for Life (AUL) has also been redrafting model state legislation in light of the Webster decision and has been working with state legislators to determine what strategy would work best in each state. “Our approach is an incremental assault on Roe,” said education director Laurie Ramsey. She said AUL is encouraging states to adopt several measures: Missouri-like legislation; informed consent; opposition to sex-selective abortions; parental involvement; legislation encouraging alternatives to abortion; and statutes to support maternal and child health and other assistance to needy mothers.
JustLife, a political action committee promoting a “consistent life ethic,” has released eight state guidelines that the group says reflect a “commitment to protecting life both before and after birth.” The guidelines include informed consent, family consent, viability testing, funding bans, coordination of services to pregnant women, parental leave from work, public assistance to unborn children, and adoption subsidies.
For its part, the Christian Action Council (CAC) has been working to encourage grassroots enthusiasm for all prolife legislative efforts. Their annual Pastors’ Protest Against Abortion on September 30 saw 50,000 pastors and church people conduct protests in 41 states. This year, for the first time, the CAC broadened the scope of the protests to include not only hospitals that perform abortions, but also abortion clinics and Planned Parenthood facilities. The CAC has announced plans for a national prolife summit, cosponsored with Focus on the Family’s Washington-based Family Research Council. The summit, tentatively slated for January in Phoenix, will teach people how to get involved on the state level.
Operation Rescue (OR) is also rallying its troops to be an effective influence on the state level. The group plans a major training session in Washington next week to teach people about political activism and how to conduct “rescues” in front of abortion clinics. At press time, it was unclear how the legal problems of leader Randall Terry would affect the movement. The first week in October, Terry chose to begin a two-year jail sentence in Atlanta rather than pay a $1,000 fine for a rescue conducted during the 1988 Democratic National Convention. Terry faces charges in other states as well.
Meanwhile, prochoice activists have been organizing to counter the prolife efforts. Several groups have begun state-directed campaigns featuring newspaper ads and broadcast commercials. A coalition of abortion-rights groups called Mobilization for Women’s Lives has launched a series of activities, including state protests, door-to-door canvassing efforts, lobbying campaigns, and voter-registration drives.
The coalition has also planned a November 12 rally in Washington, D.C., where sparks are expected to fly—Operation Rescue has planned a prolife rally in Washington for the same weekend.
By Kim A. Lawton.
While the abortion war heated up in the states, battles continued at the federal level as well. To the glee of the prochoice movement, the first congressional abortion votes of the fall went against the prolife position. Molly Yard, president of the National Organization for Women, said it was “heartwarming” to watch “antichoice” politicians: “They are pulling back from the issue,” she charged.
For the first time in nine years, the House of Representatives rejected a prolife amendment during the budget process by defeating a measure to ban federal and local funding of abortions in Washington, D.C. The same amendment passed last year. Several additional factors, including parliamentary maneuvering and the issue of the district’s ability to govern itself, played into the vote, but prolifers were concerned nonetheless. “It was a loss, and it hurt,” conceded Jack Fowler of the Ad Hoc Committee in Defense of Life.
Meanwhile, the Senate narrowly reversed a four-year-old U.S. policy and resumed financing of the United Nations’ Fund for Population Activities. The funds had been revoked because of allegations that the group supported China’s forced-abortion policy. The Senate also voted to add exceptions for rape and incest to the Hyde Amendment prohibition against federal funding of abortion. The current version includes only a “life of the mother” exception.
The House also voted to allow federal funds for abortion in cases of rape and incest. President Bush earlier put Congress on notice that he would veto any budget packages that included federal funds for abortion.
And despite the setbacks, most prolife activists do not expect to see Congress roll back past prolife victories. “We’re optimistic about the outcome,” said NRLC Legislative Director Doug Johnson. “Given the way the current Congress is constituted, there’s not going to be any dramatic movement in either direction.”
Of more concern to prolifers, however, is a recent report in Newsweek that claimed senior White House officials were urging Bush to “dodge” the “loser” abortion issue. “We’re getting all sorts of mixed signals,” Fowler said. “I guess we have to keep the pressure on these folks.”
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