TOPEKA, Kansas — An unprecedented number of pro-life bills, mostly on the state level, is continuing, and recent executive signatures in places like Kansas and Indiana are giving pro-lifers renewed hope.
Measures that strip Planned Parenthood of all state funding, force private abortionists to adopt new safety measures, require parental consent, and outlaw almost all abortions after 20 weeks were pushed through state legislatures by new pro-life majorities.
“It is my impression a significant number of newly elected legislators are pro-life,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, who has visited many state legislatures in her job as director of National Right to Life’s department of state legislation.
Taking a dimmer view of the proceedings is Elizabeth Nash, policy analyst for the Guttmacher Institute, a pro-abortion research center created by Planned Parenthood.
“This year is unparalleled for the amount of pro-life legislation we have seen,” said Nash, who adds that the Guttmacher Institute has long been independent of Planned Parenthood.
“What gets me about this,” she said, “is that these restrictions do nothing to prevent unintended pregnancies. If we reduce unintended pregnancies [with birth-control procedures], then we reduce the number of abortions.”
“There have been 54 bills restricting abortion rights since January,” she said, adding that 34 was a previous high in term of bills coming from all the states in their spring sessions. “Kansas alone has a dozen bills [passed or pending].”
The legislative action comes from fewer than half the states, those with what Nash calls “small c” conservative majorities. She uses this term because some of those legislators who support pro-life measures are Democrats.
Balch says in her more than 20 years of work at the state level on pro-life issues, “Not a year has gone by when we didn’t pass one or another piece of legislation.”
Nash adds that the pro-life movement has been successful over the past five years in getting its views put into state laws. “They’ve built up a momentum. And now there are pro-life governors in states where they were pro-choice before [November].”
Nash is forgetting another factor, says Balch. The public has been in favor of restricting abortions all along, and especially of denying public funding for them. “A significant proportion of the population hasn’t wanted to see its tax dollars paying for the death of unborn human beings. A supermajority [two-thirds] find it offensive.”
Supermajorities are on everyone’s minds, because that’s what it takes to overrule a governor who won’t sign a pro-life bill.
Minnesota sent a fetal-pain bill to Gov. Mark Dayton. Balch says the governor is expected to veto it, leaving the pro-life majorities in the state Senate and House of Representatives to try to get the supermajorities necessary to override the governor. But right now it looks like they will fall a few votes short.
Kansas Shows How
No such obstacle exists in Kansas, where the pro-life movement is showing what it can accomplish when the Senate, House of Representatives and governor are in sync.
Pro-life measures that Sam Brownback, who became governor this year after serving in the U.S. Senate for six years, has already signed into law or is expected to sign include one that denies state-controlled funds (including federal dollars) to organizations that do abortions; one that requires parental consent before minors can get abortions; and a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, except when the mother’s life is threatened.
Kansas has also banned so-called telemed abortions, a procedure Planned Parenthood is trying out in Iowa. It is designed to address the additional cost to rural women of driving long distances to an abortion business and taking time off work. The woman gets approval for her abortion from a doctor she consults with by video conference. Once approved, she presses a button in front of her, and two pills are dispensed: one for her to take immediately and one for later.
Another new Kansas law requires all women seeking an abortion to be informed that the operation terminates the life of a unique human being and to be offered an ultrasound test.
Another measure concerns insurance plans in the state exchange to be set up under the new federal health-insurance scheme. Those seeking abortion insurance will have to buy a separate rider to that effect. “This is so I’m not paying for someone’s abortion with my premiums,” said Balch.
Count to 5
Planned Parenthood is taking particular exception to the defunding provisions, which were pioneered by Indiana but have been emulated by several legislatures. Planned Parenthood says the federal funds being cut off, so-called “Title X” funds passed on to states for family planning, don’t pay for abortions anyway.
Balch acknowledges that the Hyde Amendment passed each year by Congress prevents federal funds for all abortions except those threatening the mother’s life and in cases of incest or rape. But the Title X funds, by paying for other programs provided by Planned Parenthood, “free up” funds for abortions, argues Balch.
Another argument from Planned Parenthood defenders is that their family-planning programs (i.e., birth-control education and drugs) prevent 800,000 abortions each year.
Balch responds, “We are concerned with those lives that are in being. We know that Planned Parenthood is in the abortion business big-time.”
Planned Parenthood has challenged Indiana’s defunding law in federal court, but failed to get an injunction preventing the law’s implementation until the challenge is heard and ruled on.
It seems only the courts can stop the pro-life juggernaut and, ultimately, that means the Supreme Court. It was the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that threw out the absolute bans on abortion in many states, indirectly instigating the long, incremental legislative campaigns in those states to whittle away at abortions with restrictions. What about a law that challenges Roe v. Wade directly?
Balch said that this is certainly possible, but not timely.
The Supreme Court has overturned its own rulings in the past, she notes, citing the landmark Supreme Court decision Brown v. the School Board of Topeka, Kansas, in 1954, in which it threw out its own previous endorsement of state segregation laws.
But Balch warns “it would be imprudent” to bring legislation before the Supreme Court challenging Roe at this time. “Pro-lifers need to count to five,” she said. Right now, only four of nine Supreme Court justices are reliably pro-life. A state law that provoked a reaffirmation of Roe v. Wade from today’s Supreme Court would likely result in a major setback.
Yet there are new bills in Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi that would legally define human life as beginning at the moment of conception and ban all abortions. Such laws are likely to be challenged and may make it as far as the high court.
Steve Weatherbe writes from Victoria, British Columbia.
Abortion Economics 101
According to Chapter 8 of Jeffrey Perloff’s textbook Microeconomics, the abortion business is nearly “perfectly competitive,” meaning it is so competitive that the price of the operation is very close to cost, and profits are minimal. This has happened at least partly because public demand for abortion has decreased. Perloff reports the abortion rate per 1,000 women of child-bearing age has gone down from 29 in 1981 to 21 in 2003. This has forced smaller clinics, especially in rural areas, out of business (causing an overall decline in the number of abortion businesses by 11% between 1996 and 2000).
Meanwhile, larger operations in urban areas have maintained the basic price of an abortion at 1983 levels, while reducing costs. Demand is very “elastic,” or price-sensitive.
“To stay in business,” said Perloff, “the clinics keep their variable costs as low as possible. A low-paid staff does everything but the actual surgery, from drawing blood to doing lab tests. … A doctor is present only on days when they can schedule a steady stream of patients. Each first-trimester procedure takes only two to three minutes of the doctor’s time.”
Competition is so fierce, doctors in the business refuse to train others, says Perloff.
Meanwhile, another economist, Marshall Medoff, has reported in his paper “The Response of Abortion Demand to Changes in Abortion Cost” that while practitioners have done their best to keep costs down, the “real price” of abortions (the total cost to women, including transportation and time off of work) has still increased, and this increase between 1982 and 2000 caused 20% of the overall decline in the number of abortions.
Moreover, Medoff’s research also indicated any increase in the real cost of abortion will reduce not only the incidence of abortion, but also the incidence of unintended pregnancies by “altering women’s sexual/contraceptive practices.” Parental-notification laws reduce abortion, reported Medoff.
— Steve Weatherbe