Alabama joins flood of states restricting abortion. What's behind this?
The Alabama and Virginia legislatures just passed new measures, following stricter actions in North Dakota and Arkansas. To understand this latest wave, look to the tea party.
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A wave of state-level activism against abortion rights has been under way for the past 12 years, but it picked up steam in 2011, following the birth of the conservative tea party movement. In the 2010 elections, tea partyers won big in some state legislatures. Though their main focus is fiscal issues, most are also social conservatives – many of them driven to enact abortion restrictions soon after taking office.Skip to next paragraph
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In 2011, 92 abortion restrictions were enacted in state legislatures, and in 2012, the number was 43, according to Elizabeth Nash of the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization on reproductive issues.
“Those are the two highest years,” says Ms. Nash. “We’re in the midst of this wave of abortion restrictions.”
For the larger context, she says, go back to the start of the last decade. In 2000, Guttmacher classified 13 states as being “hostile” to abortion. By 2011, half the states were hostile. To gauge “hostility,” Guttmacher identified 10 classifications of abortion restriction, and if a state reached four of them, it was called hostile.
Many of the restrictions have been or will be legally enjoined from taking effect, amid challenges to their constitutionality. Some could wind up in the Supreme Court, presenting an opportunity for the justices to take another look at Roe v. Wade, the landmark ruling in 1973 that legalized abortion nationwide.
Within the antiabortion movement, there’s a longstanding debate over how best to proceed on the legal front: Go for measures that openly flout Roe – such as fetal heartbeat legislation or so-called “personhood” amendments to state constitutions – or try to chip away at abortion rights through seemingly less restrictive measures.
Alabama seems aimed down the latter path. Gov. Robert Bentley (R) of Alabama is expected to sign the bill requiring hospital admitting privileges for abortion providers. Mississippi passed a similar requirement last year, but a federal judge blocked it from taking effect while litigation is under way.
Americans United for Life (AUL), which provides model legislation to state legislators wishing to enact restrictions on abortion, applauded Alabama’s move.
“To keep women and girls safe, abortion clinics nationwide should be held to the same high standards that we expect from any outpatient medical facility,” said Charmaine Yoest, president and CEO of AUL, in a statement. “Alabama is leading the way with the passage of the Women’s Health and Safety Act.”