Abortion may not be high on the US congressional agenda or a main issue for most conservatives pondering a run for the presidency next year. But around the country, the future of abortion in the United States is being hard-fought in state legislatures and elsewhere.
Among the most recent examples: Arizona Gov. Jan Brewer (R) this week signed legislation outlawing abortions performed on the basis of race or gender. Doctors who do so face up to seven years in prison.
Critics of the Arizona law say it’s a solution looking for a problem – that there is no evidence abortions are being performed to abort fetuses because of race or gender (as has happened in China, India, and some other countries).
In addition this week, a legislative committee in Ohio sent to the full House a bill outlawing abortions in cases where a fetal heartbeat can be medically detected. So-called heartbeat bills – which even some antiabortion activists acknowledge are probably unconstitutional – are also being considered in Georgia, Oklahoma, and Texas.
And Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback (R) is expected to sign two antiabortion bills passed by the state Legislature. One would ban all abortions beyond 22 weeks because of “fetal pain,” except to save the life of the mother. The second bill would require minors to obtain parental permission before getting an abortion.
At least five other state legislatures are considering fetal pain bills this year, reports The Kansas City Star.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which studies sexual and reproductive health, some or all women considering abortion in eight states are provided information about the ability of a fetus to feel pain
The Idaho state Senate has approved a bill prohibiting abortions beyond 20 weeks. A House committee sent the bill to the full House this week. The Alabama House took up a similar bill Wednesday. Idaho, Alabama, and other states are patterning such laws on one passed in Nebraska last year.
South Dakota's new law
The flurry of antiabortion laws in part reflects the election of more Republican governors and state lawmakers last November.
The abortion-rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America says the November elections boosted from 10 to 15 the number of states with “anti-choice governments” – those where both the governor and a majority of the legislature are against abortion. In several red states around the country, Thursday has been designated “Pro-Life Legislative Day.”
Proponents of Arizona’s new law dealing with race and gender point to US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data gathered over recent decades.
In its most recent finding, CDC reports that black women accounted for 36.5 percent of abortions in the US in 2007 – considerably higher than the 13 percent of the population self-identified as African-American in the 2010 census. The CDC does not judge about motivation or possible coercion here, suggesting instead that higher rates of poverty probably are a cause.
Also drawing on the CDC numbers, activists have paid for antiabortion billboards in Chicago with a racial tinge, featuring a picture of President Obama. “Every 21 minutes, our next possible leader is aborted,” the billboard reads.
Racial discrimination in abortions?
“Our future leaders are being aborted at an alarming rate,” the Rev. Derek McCoy said in a statement. “These are babies who could grow to be the future Presidents of the United States, or the next Oprah Winfrey, Denzel Washington or Maya Angelou.”
Abortion-rights groups were quick to respond.
“No woman’s reproductive choices should be questioned or subjected to more scrutiny or control based on her racial or ethnic background – and that’s exactly what these billboards do,” NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan said in a statement . “We also find it deeply offensive that the group behind these billboards is wrapping its anti-choice agenda in the language and framework of civil rights.”
The controversy in Chicago follows one in New York, where antiabortion activists paid for a billboard that read, "The most dangerous place for an African-American is in the womb." It was removed after area residents objected.
While most presidential hopefuls appear not to be emphasizing such social issues as abortion, former US Sen. Rick Santorum (R) is an exception.
On a New Hampshire radio program Tuesday, he suggested that Social Security’s problems are tied to abortion rates – that the S is not creating enough younger workers to pay for baby boomers' Social Security.
"We are depopulating this country, and we're seeing the birthrate is below replacement rate for the first time in history," he said.