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Pro-life movement making a comeback

Published: Saturday, April 30 2011 11:01 p.m. MDT

"There are people who oppose abortion who've said if they cannot make it illegal, they will … do everything they can at a federal level and state legislatures to make abortion care inaccessible for most women," said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, the professional association of abortion providers in North America.

Yet Tom McClusky, senior vice president of Family Research Council Action, sees the situation differently and praises the work being done in this "building year" — in which 427 abortion-restricting bills have been proposed, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America.

"The states are now a microcosm of what we'd like to see on the federal level," he said.

In Arizona, the governor recently signed a bill prohibiting "telemedicine" abortions, or abortions where the woman can receive abortion-inducing medication and counseling via videophone. The state has also tightened restrictions on abortion clinics and now requires that an ultrasound be done so a woman can hear a fetal heartbeat at least one hour before an abortion procedure. Arizona was also the first state to ban abortions performed because of the race of the fetus and one of the few states to ban abortion based on the fetus' gender.

More than 15 states have proposed fetal pain bills, which would outlaw an abortion after roughly 20 weeks, because around that point, advocates believe the fetus can feel pain. And South Dakota lawmakers have drawn significant attention for their new 72-hour-wait law, which requires women who want an abortion to see a doctor, receive counseling at a pregnancy help center and then wait three days before being eligible for the abortion.

While pro-life advocates always want to get additional protection on the books, the speed and timing of the bills makes this year different, said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to Life Committee.

"Often times the abortion issue is put off until the end of session because it's controversial," she said, "but in states this year, bills were (introduced) very quickly."

On a federal level, lawmakers tried to cut nearly $317 million from family planning through the Title X program, of which Planned Parenthood is a beneficiary, though none of those funds have ever been allowed to pay for abortions. The slashing of the program's funding was removed at the last minute, but it's unknown how the program will fare as Congress approaches the 2012 budget.

The "No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act" would permanently impose regulations that prevent Medicaid and other federal funds from being used for abortions, except in cases of rape, incest or to save the life of the mother.

The bill would also deny tax credits or federal subsidies to companies and individuals whose insurance plans cover abortions.

Normally, the procedure for introducing legislation is to do so gradually and in small steps, so as to not ruffle feathers or set off counteractive lobbying, said University of Utah political science professor Thad Hall. On a controversial topic like abortion, most pro-life legislators would pick an existing law and tweak it slightly, adding in an extra rule here or a few hours for the waiting period there — small steps, but ones that over five or 10 years add up to significant progress.

Yet this new wave of politicians isn't taking it quite so slow, Hall said. Instead, they're more willing to "push the envelope a bit," by introducing increasingly bold legislation, with a goal of attacking, eroding and even overturning Roe v. Wade.

Utah Rep. Carl Wimmer (R-Herriman) doesn't hide his disgust with the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that guaranteed women a constitutional right to have an abortion.

"Roe v. Wade is historically one of the worst decisions the Supreme Court has ever made," Wimmer said. "It's absolutely my intention, as well as the intention of others in the legislature, to continue to push back against it and continue to chip away at it as often as we can."

If Roe v. Wade were overturned, individual state legislatures would determine what would and wouldn't be allowed.

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