Pro-Life Movement Looks to Build in 2016

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WASHINGTON — Looking to keep their momentum from 2015, pro-life advocates and their allies in several state legislatures are hoping to enact more laws and abortion regulations in 2016 to protect women and their unborn children.

Bills already pending in Missouri and Ohio would respectively prohibit abortions for genetic abnormalities and require the remains of aborted children to be humanely buried or cremated, instead of being discarded in landfills.

At least 16 state legislatures in 2015 passed nearly 50 abortion-related laws in 2015 that included mandatory waiting periods, partial-birth abortion bans and prohibitions against abortions after 20 weeks, the point when pro-life leaders say unborn children can feel pain.

“Momentum is on the side of life,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of Americans United for Life, noting that a Marist poll found that 84% of Americans agree that there should be significant abortion-related restrictions and safeguards in the first three months of pregnancy.

Yoest told the Register that Americans United for Life in December launched its “Infants’ Protection Project” initiative heading into the 2016 legislative sessions to advance legal protections for the humanity of the unborn, as well as to address ongoing abuses in the abortion industry. Yoest said legislators in several states have inquired about the initiative. 

“There have been high levels of interest,” Yoest said. “The undercover videos from the Center for Medical Progress have kind of opened a window into how horrific the abortion industry really does behave behind closed doors, and people expect there to be a response from their elected representatives.”

The Infants’ Protection Project includes draft state-level bills that seek to prohibit partial-birth abortions, scientific experiments on aborted infants, sex-selective abortions and abortions performed for genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome. The centerpiece of the legislative package is a bill called the Unborn Infants Dignity Act, which prohibits experimenting on the remains of aborted children and requires that their bodies be given a dignified burial or cremation.

Other proposed legislative measures include requiring unborn children who survive attempted abortion procedures to be given appropriate medical care as well as authorizing civil wrongful-death lawsuits when unborn children are killed by a third party’s criminal or neglectful act.

“The pro-life legislators at the state level can pick which [bills] resonate with them and are the most appropriate for their state,” said Yoest, who added that the Infants’ Protection Project was released in advance of Americans United for Life’s 2016 edition of “Defending Life,” an annual report of pro-life legislative activity across the country.

The report will be released nationwide this month as state legislative sessions open and the pro-life community commemorates the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand throughout the entire country.

Yoest said the Infants’ Protection Project complements AUL’s “Influential Women’s Protection Project” by showing the harmful effects of abortion to the mother and child.

“Both are designed to highlight the fact that abortion is run by an industry that is focused on profit and on their bottom line, and in the process of performing abortions, they obviously destroy an unborn infant and frequently harm and injure the mother,” Yoest said.


Planned Parenthood

In 2015, the Center for Medical Progress’ undercover videos of Planned Parenthood officials discussing the procurement and sale of aborted children’s body parts, allegedly for a profit, sparked congressional and state-level investigations into the nation’s largest abortion provider, which receives more than $500 million a year in federal funding.

Efforts to strip Planned Parenthood’s federal funding have stalled, frustrating pro-life leaders and prompting evangelist Frank Graham, the son of Rev. Billy Graham, to announce in late December that he was abandoning the Republican Party after the GOP-led Congress passed a budget bill that kept Planned Parenthood’s funding intact.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has also expressed frustration that the 2016 congressional omnibus funding bill did not include the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act (ANDA), a measure aimed at making federal conscience laws on abortion workable and enforceable.

Archbishop Joseph Kurtz of Louisville, Ky., the president of the U.S. bishops’ conference, said the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act was an “urgent legislative priority” for the bishops in the final months of 2015.

“Many Catholic and other institutions, including those that provide health care and other human services to the poor and vulnerable, have joined in our support of ANDA,” Archbishop Kurtz said in a Dec. 23 statement, adding: “Without ANDA, these caring organizations face legal threats to their very existence, as they lack clear and enforceable protection for their freedom to serve the needy in accord with their deepest moral convictions on respect for human life. Such threats to conscience also pose a threat to the most marginalized and vulnerable in our society — the poor and the sick, as well as the unborn.”

At the state level, at least six states — Utah, Texas, Louisiana, Alabama, Arkansas and New Hampshire — have moved to cut public funding to Planned Parenthood affiliates, according to the pro-life organization Live Action. Planned Parenthood subsequently sued Utah, but a federal judge denied the abortion provider’s request to stop Gov. Gary Herbert from blocking $230,000 in federal funds that Planned Parenthood received through the state. On Dec. 28, Planned Parenthood asked the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals for an emergency injunction.

Meanwhile in Ohio, Planned Parenthood is being accused of violating state laws regarding the disposal of aborted babies. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine said an investigation conducted by his office revealed that Planned Parenthood appears to have sent the bodies of aborted babies to local landfills.

DeWine’s investigative report said: “All three Ohio Planned Parenthood affiliates have sent fetal remains to companies which disposed of the fetuses in landfills.”


Other Initiatives

Spurred by DeWine’s report, Ohio state lawmakers have crafted legislation aimed at ensuring humane burial or cremation for aborted children. The bill would set a misdemeanor penalty for violating the law and would require full disclosure to women pursuing abortions that their unborn children will be buried or cremated.

Katherine Franklin, director of communications for Ohio Right to Life, told the Register that she is optimistic the bill will become law, adding that the Ohio Legislature and Ohio Gov. John Kasich have approved 16 pieces of pro-life legislation over the last five years, including laws that provide public funding for pro-life pregnancy centers and that require physicians performing abortions to provide women the option of hearing their unborn babies’ heartbeats.

“We’ve been very fortunate and very blessed to have a legislature that is very pro-life,” said Franklin, who added that Ohio Right to Life is currently crafting other pro-life legislative measures that include a pain-capable unborn child protection act and a prohibition against aborting a child because of Down syndrome.

Said Franklin, “Why not keep pushing ahead when we have all our pro-life leaders in office?”

In Missouri, state Sen. David Sater has also introduced a bill to ban abortions sought solely because an unborn child has Down syndrome. Sater, a Republican, told reporters that babies with Down syndrome “deserve life and shouldn’t be discriminated against.”

“Most grow up to be fine citizens, and they’re loved, and I think it’s inhumane to abort someone just because they’re a little different,” Sater said.

The pro-life legislative gains have annoyed the abortion lobby. The Center for Reproductive Rights, a national organization that favors abortion rights, criticizes many of the 47 new state-level abortion restrictions enacted in 2015 as unnecessary and unconstitutional.

“It seems painfully clear that lawmakers in 2015 still haven’t gotten the message from the courts and their constituents: Stop playing politics with women’s health and focus on priorities that support our families and communities,” Nancy Northrup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said in a statement.

The abortion lobby often argues that the state-level abortion restrictions are medically unnecessary and unconstitutional because they create undue burdens to receiving an abortion. Franklin said Ohio Right to Life and its legislative allies have been cautious to draft laws that can pass constitutional challenges.

“We’ve always taken a very careful, optimistic approach to where the Supreme Court falls on the issue,” Franklin said. “We’ve both pushed to prohibit abortions where we can and are trying to push the limit further with the pain-capable act.”

“We want to give legislators a sense of confidence that they are passing something that is constitutionally sound and can withstand legal scrutiny,” said Yoest, who added the abortion lobby opposes nearly all proposed abortion regulations, even measures to prohibit sex-selective abortions.

“That seems like something we all ought to be able to agree on,” Yoest said. “But every time we try to introduce the legislation, the abortion industry, Planned Parenthood and their friends all mobilize against it.”


Court Cases

State and federal courts have recently heard arguments on the new state-level abortion restrictions. In mid-December, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 9th Circuit reviewed a lawsuit challenging a 2011 Arizona law that makes it a felony for a doctor to perform an abortion on the basis of gender or race. In Kansas, the state’s 14 appellate judges in December heard arguments over the Unborn Child Protection From Dismemberment Abortion Act, a state law that prohibits a partial-birth abortion procedure.

In 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court is expected to decide Whole Woman’s Health v. Cole, a case that could determine the lengths to which government officials can regulate abortion facilities. The case is based on a Texas law that requires abortion facilities in that state to meet the standards for “ambulatory surgical centers” and that doctors performing abortions have admitting privileges at hospitals within 30 miles of their offices.

Yoest, of Americans United for Life, which was involved in drafting the Texas law, said she is optimistic about the case’s chances at the Supreme Court.

Said Yoest, “We think the question of how, even if, abortion clinics can be regulated is really essential and a fundamental question the court needs to answer.”

         Brian Fraga writes from

               Fall River, Massachusetts.