Multistate personhood push kindles abortion debate

By David Crary

Associated Press

Published: Friday, Jan. 20 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

According to a tally by the abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America, 69 bills aimed at restricting access to abortion were enacted last year in 26 states — the second-highest total in 16 years of tracking such data.

Charmaine Yoest of Americans United for Life, one of the anti-abortion groups active in state legislatures, said she expected many more victories this year. But she declined to endorse — or criticize — the campaign for personhood measures.

"Different pro-life groups have different strategies," she said.

In Ohio, the personhood proposal shares the political stage with the so-called heartbeat bill, which would outlaw abortions at the first detectable fetal heartbeat, sometimes as early as six weeks into pregnancy. The bill, stricter than any existing state abortion limit, passed the Ohio House last June and is pending in the Senate.

A Quinnipiac University poll released Thursday suggested that Ohio voters were evenly split, with 45 percent supporting the measure and 46 percent opposing it. Senate President Tom Niehaus has suspended hearings on the legislation and says debate will resume after the state's March 6 primary.

If the bill is enacted, supporters hope to provoke a legal challenge of Roe v. Wade, which upheld a woman's right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually at 22 to 24 weeks.

Dr. Christopher Estes, an obstetrician-gynecologist and abortion provider in Miami, described the influx of restrictive laws in Florida and elsewhere as dismaying.

"All these things don't do anything to decrease women's need for abortion," he said. "It just hurts their care — particularly for the most vulnerable women."

Estes, who teaches at the University of Miami's medical school, said pressure from anti-abortion activists is unlikely to ease.

"They are equally ignorant and determined — it's a bad combination," he said. "They're on a very misguided moral crusade and I don't see it going away."

In the presidential campaign, abortion has been mostly a secondary issue thus far, though that could change in the fall.

While President Barack Obama supports abortion rights, the remaining Republican candidates depict themselves as staunchly anti-abortion. Three of them — Newt Gingrich, Rick Santorum and Ron Paul — have signed the Personhood USA pledge, which says abortions "are always wrong and should be prohibited."

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney has not signed the pledge, nor did he join his rivals in an anti-abortion forum Wednesday night in South Carolina sponsored by Personhood USA. However, Romney, who once supported legalized abortion, now condemns it and says a future Supreme Court should overturn Roe v. Wade.

For most voters, abortion is not a front-burner issue. In a Gallup Poll earlier this month, 66 percent of respondents said the most important issue facing America related to the economy, while 1 percent cited abortion.

Even among voters in Iowa's Republican caucus — a relatively conservative bloc — only 13 percent said abortion was the key issue in choosing a candidate.


Personhood USA: http://www.personhoodusa.com/

NARAL Pro-Choice America: http://www.naral.org/

Americans United for Life: http://aul.org/

Planned Parenthood: http://www.plannedparenthood.org/

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