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Abortion opponents have a new voice

In the often heated debate over abortion, a less confrontational, more pragmatic force is behind a record number of antiabortion laws and pro-choice's 'bad year.'

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There is a divide in the antiabortion movement, meanwhile, about this approach. Some believe officials should strive to overturn Roe v. Wade – and that anything less is missing the point. Others, including Yoest, suggest that in the short term they can do much to reduce the number of abortions performed by pushing these types of initiatives and cuts to funding of Planned Parenthood, among other proposals. Avoiding a Supreme Court fight – where a decision about abortion would probably fall to Justice Anthony Kennedy, who signaled in a 2007 ruling that he has hesitation about later-term procedures but whose commitment is not yet clear – has strategic benefits.

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AUL has avoided involvement in some of the bills that, if challenged, could get batted down by the nation's highest court. Among them, a South Dakota measure requiring women to wait 72 hours for an abortion. The initiative also requires a visit to a crisis pregnancy center where a woman would be advised of her alternatives. A judge has imposed a temporary injunction.

Yoest says this of her group's incrementalist strategy: "You don't have to overturn Roe to actually make progress at the state level." One option is to let Roe "crumble under its own weight and become irrelevant," she says.

Dictating the national conversation

The nation is decidedly split when it comes to abortion. According to a Pew Research Center for the People & the Press survey conducted in February, 54 percent of Americans believe abortion should be legal in most or all cases, while 42 percent said it should be illegal. Gallup polling has fluctuated in recent years, though the divide between Americans who self-identify as "pro-choice" versus "pro-life" has narrowed considerably since the mid-1990s when there was more than a 20 percentage-point edge among those favoring reproductive freedoms. In a 2009 Gallup poll, 51 percent of respondents said they were "pro-life" while 42 percent were "pro-choice." But Gallup's 2011 numbers indicate that 49 percent call themselves "pro-choice" compared with 45 percent who are "pro-life."

The antiabortion movement is having success in dictating the national conversation about abortion, says Kathryn Kolbert, the civil rights attorney who successfully argued the landmark 1992 case Planned Parenthood v. Casey before the Supreme Court. Ms. Kolbert views the initiatives being pushed by AUL and others as "totally draconian," including, she says, a relentless push to defund Planned Parenthood, an effort AUL renewed in July with gusto. With half a dozen GOP members of Congress by her side, Yoest issued a report – titled The Case for Investigating Planned Parenthood – suggesting that lawmakers worried about the debt ceiling and America's fiscal crisis shouldn't be providing public tax dollars to an abortion provider.

While Yoest took a calm tack during the press conference, asserting that the report allows the American people to look at the issue "openly and honestly" and decide for themselves, others were more direct.

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