Flurry of 2021 Pro-Life State Legislative Initiatives Sets Up Momentous Supreme Court Decision on Abortion
As pro-life leaders in many states acknowledge, the Supreme Court’s decision, whatever it turns out to be, won’t end the abortion discussion.
Emboldened by what they hope is effectively a pro-life majority on the U.S. Supreme Court, state legislators passed more abortion restrictions in 2021 than during any other year since the high court issued Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion nationally in 1973.
And pro-life advocates are mobilizing to build on that success in 2022, whether or not the Supreme Court decides this year to strike down or weaken Roe, as many court analysts are predicting.
The number of pro-life restrictions on abortion in 2021 was 108, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, which tracks information about abortion and also supports it. That makes 2021 “The Worst Year for Abortion Rights in Almost Half a Century,” the organization’s headline stated regarding the restrictions.
On the flip side, however, pro-lifers see continued opportunity.
“The last couple of years have been successful for the unborn child — for protecting the unborn child and her mother,” said Ingrid Duran, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee, in a telephone interview.
Much of the abortion attention will be on the Supreme Court, as observers anticipate what the court will decide with a case before it concerning a 2019 Mississippi statute that seeks to ban abortion at 15 weeks. The court could use the case, Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization, to overturn Roe v. Wade or weaken it. A decision is expected in June.
Banning at least some types of abortion is on the agenda for pro-lifers in several states, as they hope the high court will uphold such restrictions as a result of its Dobbs decision.
In Florida, for instance, that may mean limiting abortions to the first trimester.
“I think some sort of abortion restriction will be a priority this year. I think that’s the most likely thing you’ll see, is a 15-week ban,” said Michael Sheedy, executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference.
But, as pro-life leaders in many states acknowledge, the Supreme Court’s decision, whatever it turns out to be, won’t end the abortion discussion.
In Arizona, for instance, where the governor signed an omnibus pro-life bill in April 2021, the court’s decision may just get things started.
“It will be a great day if Roe is overturned, but it will really be only the beginning in sustaining us as a pro-life state. The fight doesn’t go away. In fact, it really will be intensifying, because the other side is going to come on strong. We have to work to protect what we have,” said Ron Johnson, executive director of the Arizona Catholic Conference, which represents the state’s five Catholic bishops on public policy and legislative matters.
Promoting Abortion Alternatives
Some pro-lifers are looking toward measures that might make abortion seem less attractive for women with problem pregnancies.
Among recent pro-life measures, for instance, are laws requiring abortion facilities to offer women a chance to see an ultrasound image of their unborn child before going ahead with an abortion. Arizona and Montana passed such bills in 2021.
Ultrasound images that show an unborn child looks like a baby make for a powerful pro-life argument, according to Duran.
“When you have the opposition trying to dehumanize the child, ultrasounds really do provide that window into the womb,” Duran said.
Providing state funding for crisis-pregnancy centers is another practical pro-life approach.
Jason Hall, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky, which represents the state’s bishops in political matters, is deeply engaged in an effort to get the state’s voters to approve in November 2022 an amendment to the state’s constitution saying that it does not provide a right to abortion nor guarantee public funding of abortion.
At the same time, Hall is following a working group in the state capital that is trying to come up with a way to provide paid family and medical leave that would help employees (and especially women with children) without overburdening small businesses.
“I think that kind of thing has to be part of the picture, because as we provide legal protection to the unborn, we must also provide greater support for women and families in difficult circumstances, and address the reasons that women seek abortions in the first place,” Hall said. “It needs to be a both/and approach.”