The coming abortion war

Convinced Roe v. Wade can’t be overturned now, pro-life activists have passed laws in 12 states restricting termination after 20 weeks—about the time some fetal defects emerge.

These states, as well as the House of Representatives, have voted to outlaw abortion after 20 weeks

—the exact moment when some parents are just learning about severe or even fatal defects, reports Beth Reinhard in today’s edition of The Atlantic.

“Only Georgia, Louisiana, and Texas include exceptions for fetal impairment. And while these 20-week


bans affect a tiny fraction of abortions—only 1.3 percent occur after 21 weeks, the benchmark used by the federal government—they predominantly target women who are carrying gravely impaired babies or whose pregnancies are putting their own health at risk. With very few exceptions, these are women who had every intent to carry their babies to term until forced, at five months pregnant, to make a swift and excruciating decision.

“Our experience has been that parents who have gone through this don’t talk about it,” Kyle says. “We wanted to tell our story for the people who didn’t feel like they could. A family friend said it was like joining a secret club that no one wants to join.”

“Banning abortions after 20 weeks represents the new frontier of the antiabortion movement, aimed at pushing past the boundaries set by the Supreme Court in 1973. The Roe v. Wade decision legalized abortions until a fetus is viable outside the womb, around 24 weeks. The antiabortion movement’s case for earlier restrictions is that a fetus can feel pain at 20 weeks, but the ultimate goal is much more sweeping: to send a legal challenge to the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe.

“The constitutional implications aren’t lost on Abbey Sanders, who emphasizes that she lives in Arkansas only because her husband is stationed there. She’s also seen him through deployments to Iraq and Afghanistan. “I would have had to leave the state as a military spouse to get an abortion,” Abbey says. “That seems unfair when I don’t have a choice about where I live. I think it’s unconstitutional, and my husband supports and defends the Constitution on a daily basis.”

“There are also public-policy consequences. Half of the dozen states that have passed 20-week abortion bans—Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Louisiana, Oklahoma, and Texas—are in the South, which has the highest poverty and uninsured rates and the lowest median incomes in the country, according to the Census Bureau. That means families in these states are among the most disadvantaged when it comes to caring for unwanted and disabled children. Arkansas, for example, ranks near the bottom in unintended and teen pregnancy rates (46th), number of doctors per resident (44th), and public health as measured by obesity, smoking, and diabetes (48th), according to data from nonprofit organizations and the federal government. Nearly one in five people in Arkansas have no health insurance. About the same proportion are living below the federal poverty line.

“The very same folks who are adamant about women not having choice [on abortion] are not equally as adamant about making sure the safety nets are in place for the parents and the children,” says Democratic state Rep. Joyce Elliott, who represents a predominantly low-income, black district near Little Rock. “There is a moral imperative to ensure such safety nets are there.” The genesis of the 20-week ban on abortion was the 2009 murder of one of the only late-term abortion providers in the country, Dr. George Tiller. He was working as an usher Sunday morning at his church in Wichita, Kan., when an antiabortion activist shot him in the head. A friend and colleague who assisted him part time in Wichita, LeRoy Carhart, vowed to pick up the torch by performing late-term abortions at his own clinic in suburban Omaha, Neb. Ground zero of the abortion battle moved one state to the north, as conservative lawmakers feared Nebraska was becoming the late-term abortion capital of the Midwest.

“Enter Mary Spaulding Balch, a soft-spoken, Pepperdine-trained lawyer who has worked at National Right to Life for 25 years. After hearing about the concerns in Nebraska, Balch drafted a bill called the Pain-Capable, Unborn Child Protection Act. To abortion-rights activists, the bill was particularly dangerous because it moved the needle toward overturning Roe v. Wade by tapping into popular discomfort with late abortions. A United Technologies/National JournalCongressional Connection Poll in July found that a plurality, 48 percent, of Americans, supported a ban on abortions after 20 weeks, except in cases of rape and incest. Recent surveys by Quinnipiac University and ABC News/Washington Post found even higher, majority support for cutting off abortions after 20 weeks.”The idea of the unborn child’s pain was something we knew the American people could embrace,” says Balch, hailed as the architect of the 20-week strategy. “My job is to humanize the unborn child, and if this is the tool that does that, I’m happy to be part of it.” Her model legislation was circulated around the country, and three years later, 12 states have adopted bans on abortions after 20 weeks. Court challenges have blocked the restrictions in Arizona, Georgia, and Idaho. (A court has also blocked an Arkansas law that bans abortion after just 12 weeks of pregnancy, passed in the same legislative session as the 20-week ban, which still stands.) In Arizona, Maricopa County Attorney Bill Montgomery has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to consider a federal Appeals Court ruling that struck down that state’s 20-week ban. The antiabortion establishment welcomes the legal battles. “We are open to a challenge because we think it’s one we can win,” Balch says.While stymied at the federal level by the Democratic Party’s control of the White House and the Senate, antiabortion activists have staked out friendly turf within state capitals since the Republican wave of 2010. In Arkansas, Republicans netted a number of legislative seats that year, and in 2012 won control of both chambers for the first time since Reconstruction.”

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