After 40 years, Roe v. Wade's legacy is deep divide across U.S.

By David Crary

Associated Press

Published: Monday, Jan. 21 2013 11:55 p.m. MST

Laube is worried by the spread of anti-abortion state laws, but encouraged by the surge of women becoming obstetrician-gynecologists — a trend he hopes will ease the shortage of abortion providers.

"I see the movement toward the religious right being countered by a growing movement among practitioners and advocates for maintaining this as legal," he said. "That means the controversy will continue. But it also means we will hold our ground."

Abortion-rights groups also were heartened by a backlash to certain anti-abortion initiatives and rhetoric that they viewed as extreme.

"Until politicians feel there's a price to pay for voting against women, they will continue to do it," said Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a lightning rod for conservative attacks because it's the leading abortion provider in the U.S.

In Missouri and Indiana, Republican candidates for the U.S. Senate lost races that their party initially expected to win after making widely criticized comments regarding abortion rights for impregnated rape victims. In Virginia, protests combined with mockery on late-night TV shows prompted GOP politicians to scale back a bill that would have required women seeking abortions to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound.

"All these things got Americans angry and got them to realize just how extreme the other side is," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project.

"This issue will remain very divisive," she said. "But I do see this as a sea-change moment... The American public wants abortion to remain safe, legal and accessible."

However, anti-abortion leaders insist they have reason for optimism, particularly at the state level.

In the past two years, following Republican election gains in 2010, GOP-dominated state legislatures have passed more than 130 bills intended to reduce access to abortion.

The measures include mandatory counseling and ultrasound for women seeking abortions, bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, curbs on how insurers cover the procedure, and new regulations for abortion clinics.

The ACLU and other abortion-rights groups are challenging several of the laws in court, notably the 20-week ban.

Yet already this year, Republican leaders in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere are talking about new legislative efforts to restrict abortion.

Mississippi's Gov. Phil Bryant says he wants to end abortion in the state and is eager for the remaining clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, to close.

"My goal, of course, is to shut it down," Bryant told reporters on Jan. 10. "If I had the power to do so legally, I'd do so tomorrow."

The clinic is a steady target of anti-abortion protesters who take turns praying, singing hymns and confronting patients. Its administrator, Diane Derzis, says the three principal physicians on her staff have been unable to get admitting privileges at area hospitals due to pressure from the anti-abortion movement.

Such developments hearten Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, one of the groups most active in proposing anti-abortion bills for state legislatures to consider.

"Within the context of Roe, we have been remarkably successful in terms of expanding the legal protection of human life," Yoest said. "We're working to make Roe irrelevant."

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