By David J. Peterson
The large wave of local conservative Republicans elected last November is likely to generate dozens of statewide victories in the fight to protect human lives. Helped by Tea Party voters, conservatives have gained a number of crucial margins and are ramping up their campaigns to limit abortions at the state level. The doom and gloom atmosphere of last year’s health care debate has lifted, and now it is the pro-abortion activists who are on the defensive. According to Michael Gonidakis, executive director of Ohio Right to Life, “this is the best climate for passing pro-life laws in years.” He adds, “Our (state) government now is pro-life from top to bottom.” Around the country, state legislators will be introducing protective laws that would ban abortions at 20 weeks after conception, limit public money to pay for elective abortions, and give a pregnant woman an opportunity to view a live ultra sound of the developing preborn child before her decision is final. Enhanced parental notification laws are also in the offing.
Although the campaign to protect human life has always aimed at reversing the 1973 Roe vs. Wade decision to legalize abortion, supporters realize that that protecting all human life is still a distant goal. Over the years, pro-life veterans have recognized that it is at the state level where laws limiting abortions have their greatest impact. For decades, more curbs on abortion at the state level have been part of a steady trend, according to the National Right to Life as well as other allied organizations.
Following the recent conservative shift, a total of 29 states now have solidly pro-life governors, marking a gain of 8 states overall. Moreover, in 5 more states both the governors and legislature are solidly pro-life bringing the grand total to 15 states. Among these are a number having larger populations, including Georgia, Michigan, Wisconsin, and both Ohio and Oklahoma. Already legislators in Kansas are moving to require abortion clinics to have adequate medical safeguards and to further restrict the most dangerous second and third trimester procedures. Last year alone, 30 separate laws were enacted by 9 state legislatives to protect life, and it appears likely the number could increase dramatically.
By late November a majority of leftwing pundits and big media conservatives had declared that in 2010 voters were driven almost exclusively by concerns about a depressed economy and huge deficits created by insatiable government spending. However, some of the outliers are not so certain that social issues can be ruled out as a significant factor. As Tim Carney of the Washington Examiner observed last year, the most prominent tea party backed insurgents, including Ken Buck, Mike Lee, Sharon Angle, and Pat Toomey all had something unique in common. They were all pro-lifers who routed establishment Republicans – all of whom were RINOS and all pro choice! Carney noted that, “Almost without fail the strongest advocates of limited government in Congress are pro-life and vice versa.”
One of the key pro life battles that will resume this year will be the effort to repeal or completely overhaul the unpopular Obamacare law. Prolife leaders in Congress are still optimistic that provisions of the law that would greatly expand the number of abortions can be rescinded. They are determined to reinstitute a comprehensive version of the Hyde amendment, which strictly forbids any direct or indirect use of taxpayer funds to pay for abortions. The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortions Act” H.R. (5939) was introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) back in July, and already has 166 co-sponsors, including 20 Democrats.
The new landscape already has caused consternation among groups that lobby to promote abortion rights like NARAL and Planned Parenthood. The pro-choice lobby is concerned that new abortion regulations with solid public backing will no longer be vetoed by liberal governors. The New York Times quotes NARAL’s Ted Miller: “This is worrisome because governors have been the firewall; they’ve vetoed a lot of bad anti-choice legislation.” The Guttmacher Institute reports the abortion rate has declined about a third since its peak in 1981. According to recent surveys, the number of voters who say they favor ending abortion is growing and is now a majority – in addition, at least 75% of Americans support increased restrictions.
David J. Peterson is a teacher and a Parish Respect Life coordinator in Chicago.