State legislatures will be deluged with abortion-restriction bills again this year as abortion foes continue their efforts to take advantage of the U.S. Supreme Court's 1989 Webster ruling.
Michigan, Utah and Louisiana are the most likely hotspots, but the issue will be raised in nearly every state, activists on both sides say.Still, at a time when many state governments are tilting toward insolvency and the nation appears headed toward war, abortion will not be the dominant issue it was in 1990. This year, it will have to share the spotlight.
"I don't think it will be as heated," said Burke Balch, state legislative coordinator for the National Right to Life Committee, the largest pro-life group. "I think it's resumed its place as one among a number of issues."
Activists say they expect to see as many abortion-restriction bills introduced in legislatures this year as in 1990, when more than 350 were proposed. In its Webster ruling, the high court upheld restrictive Missouri laws, thereby giving states more authority to curb abortions.
"I fully expect that the anti-choice people . . . will embark upon a plan to introduce a myriad of anti-choice bills, as they did in 1990," said Kate Michelman, executive director of the National Abortion Rights Action League.
The bills that are given the best chance of passage are those that chip away at free access to abortion without attempting to ban it.
These include measures that require minors to notify their parents or get their permission before having an abortion, and those that require doctors to tell patients about the consequences of abortion and alternatives to it.
Balch said the National Right to Life Committee will aim at "the middle majority" of Americans who support legalized abortion in some but not all cases.
Pro-life forces are not as eager as they were last year to pass legislation that directly challenges Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion. That is because two such laws, from Pennsylvania and Guam, are already in the judicial pipeline that will probably lead to the high court.
Neither case is expected to be decided this year. Observers say the Pennsylvania case could be argued in the Supreme Court's fall 1991 term, with a ruling likely in 1992.
Pro-life legislators in most states will be content to wait for a Supreme Court ruling before attempting to outlaw most forms of abortion. One likely exception is Louisiana, where Gov. Buddy Roemer vetoed two bills last year. One would have banned all abortions except those in which the mother's life is at stake; the other added exceptions for aggravated rape and incest.
Pro-life legislators lacked the votes to override Roemer's veto but may try again this year, particularly if more pro-life candidates win seats in February elections.
Utah's Legislature held back from the abortion wars last year but is widely expected to pass some type of restrictive legislation this year.
In Michigan, pro-life forces have been eagerly awaiting the new legislative session because they no longer have to contend with the threat of a veto from Democratic Gov. James Blanchard. His successor, Republican John Engler, opposes abortion. Kansas also traded a pro-choice governor, Mike Hayden, for an abortion foe, Joan Finney.
However, there were victories for the pro-choice side in November's elections as well, most notably in Florida, where a staunchly pro-life governor, Bob Martinez, lost to a pro-choice candidate, Lawton Chiles.
The pro-choice movement has few plans for legislation this year. Maryland is expected to consider a measure that would guarantee the right to an abortion even if Roe vs. Wade is overturned. But for the most part, pro-choice activists are simply trying to hold the line.