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Efforts to curb abortion proliferate at state level

Abortion foes try to chip away at Roe v. Wade, most recently through laws focusing on 'personhood' of a fetus.

By Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor / June 13, 2005


Efforts at the state level to curb abortions are intensifying, adding to the nation's culture wars.

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From well-known attempts to require parental notification for teenagers to newer drives to recognize the "personhood" of a fetus, abortion foes are trying for gains in state legislatures even as both sides spar over the reproductive-rights positions of federal court nominees.

Abortion opponents have been pushing incremental limitations ever since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, and observers debate their effectiveness. Lately, however, more such bills are being signed, reflecting, in part, the nation's more conservative state legislatures, and perhaps also the opinion of many Americans, who want abortion to remain legal but would like some restrictions.

"We've seen more bills [related to abortion] enacted in the first five months of this year [16] than in all of last year," says Elizabeth Nash, state monitor for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights policy group. "It's hard to measure the impact. But every time we get one of these laws, we say it's just another way to chip away at Roe."

Among the recent efforts:

• Texas Gov. Rick Perry signed a law last week that requires minors wanting an abortion to get written parental consent (as opposed to parental notification, which was previously required). It also bans a woman from getting an abortion after 26 weeks of pregnancy, unless her life is threatened or the fetus is brain damaged.

• Florida Gov. Jeb Bush recently signed legislation giving the state increased oversight of clinics that offer second-trimester abortions. While Governor Bush and others have stressed that it is only intended to ensure safety and quality care at clinics, abortion-rights groups see it as singling out facilities in hopes of closing them.

• A Georgia law approved last month requires a 24-hour waiting period and parental notification for minors. More unusual, it specifies that the doctor must inform the woman of the fetus's age, alternatives to abortion, and the likelihood that the fetus will feel pain during the abortion.

• In a similar focus on the fetus, Indiana now requires abortion doctors to notify patients that they can see an ultrasound image and listen to the fetus's heartbeat. The Michigan House recently passed a bill that requires an ultrasound be done before every abortion.

Whether any of these laws effect the number of abortions performed, or a woman's ability to get an abortion, is debatable.

"What we have going on here in state after state after state are efforts by antiabortion state legislators to keep the base happy," says David Garrow, a legal historian at Emory Law School in Atlanta. "The appearance of activity appears to satisfy people even if, when you look at it carefully, there's no tangible impact."

He cites bills regulating late-term abortions as a prime example. Such abortions (also called "partial birth") are extremely rare, and few states have clinics willing to perform them, regardless of state laws.