Pro-life movement making a comeback

Published: Saturday, April 30 2011 10:00 p.m. MDT

Albert Stecklein III, a pro-life activist with Defend Life from Bethesda, Md., attends a rally on Capitol Hill in April.

Brendan Hoffman, Getty Images

OREM — Nothing about the small clinic in Shawnee, Kan., made it stand out in Melinda Oberhelman's mind.

Looking back, all she remembers from that sultry June day in 1975 is going into a room with a nurse who kept using the word "tissue" as she explained the procedure.

The specifics slipped by. The terrified 25-year-old had no idea what she was doing or why her boyfriend hadn't come back with the money.

As Oberhelman lay on the table, she remembers several whimsical posters on the ceiling and walls. She can't recall if the male doctor even spoke to her, but she does remember the noise. And the pain.

And then it was done.

"They talk about it being a matter of choice," said Oberhelman, now 61. "From my own experience and others I've known who have had an abortion, it's really not a choice. It's when you feel like you don't have a choice. You feel that there is nothing else available to you."

For decades, Americans have argued over the morality and legality of abortion, in an emotionally heated and often intellectually clouded debate.

Yet this debate has reached a new intensity thanks to a wave of Tea Party and conservative Republicans who were swept into the U.S. House of Representatives and state legislatures last November.

Once in office, the new class of pro-life legislators, emboldened by victory, immediately began flooding their session with bills aimed at undermining and overthrowing Roe v. Wade. Thus far, 427 abortion-restricting bills have been introduced in senates and houses across the country — a huge jump from last year's 174. For the first time in more than a decade, the pro-life movement is making a comeback. And it's coming back strong.

While some applaud this pro-life resurgence, others wonder if it will drive the wedge further into the pro-life/pro-choice divide.

The issue has become so divisive it nearly shut down the government, as a polarized Congress struggled to agree on budget issues — namely whether or not to strip funding from Planned Parenthood, a family planning and abortion clinic. While the shutdown was averted, the abortion issue is still hot.

"Efforts to have people working together … have been eclipsed by this fight that's become part of our politics, no holds barred," said Mary Jacksteit, program manager at the Watertown, Mass.-based Public Conversations Project, a non-profit group that helps facilitate dialogue on contentious issues. "(Politicians are) just throwing grenades and anything to win."

Where we are

On March 2, two pregnant women stretched out on tables before Ohio legislators, discreetly covered while technicians probed to find the heartbeats of their unborn children, 9 and 15 weeks old.

Images of the tiny beating hearts and amplified thub-thub-thubs served as background visual and audial aids as Republican Rep. Lynn Wachtmann defended his bill, which would outlaw abortion after the first viable heartbeat of a fetus — as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.

Branded a circus act by pro-choice Democrats, H.B. 125, the "heartbeat bill" was carried by the pro-life Republicans out of committee but is undergoing additional scrutiny before it moves forward.

It's one of the strictest anti-abortion pieces of legislation proposed in the country, though it may never pass Constitutional muster.

Most states have laws preventing abortions after "viability" at 24 weeks, though Ohio lawmakers have also proposed an abortion ban after 20 weeks if a doctor believes the fetus could survive outside the womb.

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