St. Louis, Mo., Jan 21, 2023 / 06:00 am (CNA).
This week, health officials in New York City said they plan to begin offering free, city-funded abortion pills at four sexual health clinics, delivering up to 10,000 abortion pills a year.
The plan, drawing consternation from pro-life advocates, is a product of an increasingly polarized post-Roe v. Wade legislative climate at the local, state, and federal levels. New York state’s constitution explicitly protects abortion access and has done so since 2019; other states, such as Texas and Louisiana, have enacted strong pro-life protections, saving thousands of lives.
The U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last summer, removing a previously-held constitutional right to abortion that had been in place for nearly half a century. The decision did not in itself ban abortion, but rather shifted the question of abortion legalization to a multitude of battlefields across the country, at the state and local levels.
Since the ruling, state lawmakers have gone in very different directions, with many Democratic-led states introducing measures to expand and protect abortion access, and pro-life measures facing uphill battles even in conservative states.
At the same time, pro-life advocates are emphasizing the importance of continuing to pass pro-life legislation — not merely in the form of abortion restrictions, but also implementing policies that build a culture where abortion is unnecessary and unthinkable. On Friday, numerous speakers at the 50th annual March for Life urged those present to support pro-family policies.
“It is our charge today, in this new era, to channel that same determination and hope and prayer that has led you to these streets for 50 years, and use it to make changes,” said Mississippi Attorney General Lynn Fitch, who helped fight the legal case that led to the overturning of Roe.
“Use it to support women and children; use it to support women when they are pregnant and when they are nurturing a young family; use it to make more affordable quality child care and make it more accessible, use it to support workplace flexibility; use it to improve child support to make fathers equally responsible for their children; use it to provide educational resources for women; use it to improve adoption and foster care systems that fail our children,” she said, to applause from the crowd.
As the March for Life comes to an end, here’s a snapshot of how the fight over abortion policy is going in the states.
Pro-abortion opposition at state level
Several attempts to pass pro-life measures last year faced major pro-abortion opposition and advertising spending, as Americans in five states voted on the issue of abortion during the 2022 midterm elections in November. Three states — California, Michigan, and Vermont — passed constitutional amendments specifically to advance abortion. Citizens in Kentucky weighed a pro-life amendment, and Montana voters considered a measure that promises to protect babies who are born alive after attempted abortions. Both measures failed.
Prior to that, a pro-life amendment failed in Kansas in August amid massive pro-abortion opposition, mostly originating from outside the state.
Indiana is one of the few states that has passed a pro-life measure since Roe, a broad abortion ban that took effect in August 2022. But that law was subsequently challenged and blocked in court. Virginia is currently considering a 15-week ban, and a bill in Montana would explicitly state that the Montana Constitution’s right to individual privacy does not guarantee access to abortion or “government funding of abortion.”
All told, nearly half of all states currently have laws on the books banning abortion entirely, with a few exceptions. Many of the bans are on hold due to legal challenges.
See CNA article for interactive map.
States move to protect abortion
Other states are currently considering new pro-abortion measures.
In Maine, Gov. Janet Mills, a Democrat, has signaled support for a bill to allow late-term abortions at any time in pregnancy with a doctor’s approval. Currently, Maine’s laws restrict abortion after 24 weeks, and late-term abortions in the state are extremely rare.
Bishop Robert Deeley of Portland, Maine, spoke on Jan. 18 of his “astonished mind and pained heart in the wake of the radical and extreme measure” under consideration. He quoted the words of Pope Francis when he said that abortion is evil and that at a basic level is “the termination of human life in the maternal womb, in the name of safeguarding other rights.”
“The perpetrators of this planned reality are not ‘serving as a light’ and inspiring ‘others around the country’ as they would have you believe. They are attempting to normalize a horrific stance that each life is not sacred or deserving of the basic human dignity given by God and nature,” the bishop said.
“As this debate continues, I implore people of goodwill to speak to your local representatives in the state legislature and ask them to reconsider this unnecessary reform that will bring immeasurable pain to Maine and its people. Join me in advocating and praying that we will find a way for all in our state and society to embrace an ethic which values all human life from conception to natural death,” Deeley concluded.
Minnesota lawmakers are currently considering H.F. 1/S.F. 1, a bill that, according to the state’s bishops, “attempts to create an unlimited abortion regime in Minnesota that is out of step with Minnesotans’ actual views and those of the rest of the world.”
The bill — known as the Protect Reproductive Options Act — would codify into law a constitutional right to “reproductive freedom.” Abortion already is available in Minnesota throughout pregnancy for most reasons, but the Protect Reproductive Options Act would codify it.
Separate bills under consideration in Minnesota would remove parental notification requirements for minors procuring abortions, as well as remove state protections for babies born alive after an abortion.
“We are disappointed to see the quick pace at which these destructive bills are moving, and we hope to give legislators pause. When contemplating policy on any issue, we must consider all those who will be affected. In this case, that includes the mother, father, and most especially, the unborn child whose life is being taken,” the bishops said in a Jan. 18 letter.
“In a post-Dobbs world in which states that allow abortion have the responsibility to both regulate the practice and protect nascent human life, we should be working to find common ground on the challenges before us in Minnesota. We stand firm that every child should be welcomed in life and protected by law.”
The Catholic leaders offered suggestions for legislative priorities that they said would help to offer support to mothers in need, reducing the demand for abortion.
“This support means, among other things, policies that fund: nutritional aid for expectant mothers; health care coverage during and after pregnancy for both mother and child; child care assistance; and adequate housing. Enacting reasonable paid family and caregiver leave laws would help people retain work and care for their newborns. Reconsidering whether our adoption policies are unreasonably burdened by excessive costs or barriers to participation is also an imperative,” the bishops continued.
“We also contend that there is a social duty to remove unnecessary barriers to contracting marriage, having children, and being able to raise them well. By raising the family to the top of our state’s policy priorities, we can help restore the family to its proper position as the foundational building block of society where children best flourish.”
Deadlock on abortion bills; pills in the spotlight
And at the federal level, the U.S. House of Representatives passed two pro-life measures in early January that are not expected to make it past the currently Democratic-controlled Senate. Last year the House passed the Women’s Health Protection Act of 2022, an expansive abortion bill that would declare abortion a human right, undercut existing state pro-life laws, and force objecting doctors to perform abortions. The legislation subsequently failed in the Senate.
Federal policy regarding abortion drugs — a fast-growing abortion method, especially in states with bans on surgical abortion — has also been in the spotlight recently. The U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) recently advised that the U.S. Postal Service can deliver these abortion drugs by mail. This comes after the FDA lifted restrictions on the distribution of mifepristone — one of the two drugs in the abortion pill regimen — in December 2021. The decision authorized doctors to prescribe the drugs online and mail the pills, allowing pregnant women to perform early abortions without leaving their homes.
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