January 22, 2013

40 years after Roe v. Wade, abortion foes march on

John Hanna / The Associated Press

TOPEKA, Kan. — Abortion opponents marked the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade on Tuesday with workshops, prayers and calls for more legislation chipping away at the abortion rights the U.S. Supreme Court decision seemed to guarantee.

click image to enlarge

Anti-abortion supporters gather for the Rally for Life at the Earle Cabell Federal Courthouse, site of the landmark Roe v Wade lawsuit filing over 40 years ago, in downtown Dallas on Saturday.

AP

Many looked to Kansas, where Republican Gov. Sam Brownback has signed a series of tough, anti-abortion measures during his first two years in office. Much to the dismay of abortion-rights advocates, Kansas has been part of a wave in which states with Republican governors and GOP-controlled Legislatures enacted new restrictions on abortion providers.

Hundreds of abortion opponents gathered in Topeka for a rally with Brownback, who has called on lawmakers to create "a culture of life" and is expected to support whatever further restrictions they approve.

Abortion rights advocates have celebrated the Jan. 22, 1973, Roe v. Wade decision because it declared women have a constitutional right to abortions in some circumstances and prevented states from banning it. They observed a quieter anniversary — a reflection of the reality that it's far rarer for lawmakers to expand access to abortion.

Across the nation, many events were scheduled Tuesday by advocacy groups on the two sides of the debate. The National Organization for Women, for example, planned a candlelight vigil at the Supreme Court to commemorate the Roe ruling, which it supports. The annual March for Life, which traditionally draws several hundred thousand abortion opponents to Washington, D.C., is scheduled for Friday.

"It should be honored — not trying to find loopholes," said Rep. Emily Perry, a lawyer and Democrat from the Kansas City suburb of Mission, Kan., who supports abortion rights. "I wish the amount of energy put into narrowing Roe v. Wade would be put into school funding or our budget."

Kansans for Life, the most influential of the state's anti-abortion groups, plans to ask lawmakers to enact legislation ensuring that the state doesn't finance abortions even indirectly, such as through tax breaks or allowing doctors-in-training at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, Kan., to perform them on the center's time. The group also wants to strengthen a state law dictating what information must be provided to abortion patients, ban abortions because of the fetus' gender and allow wrongful death lawsuits when a fetus dies because of an accident.

Republican lawmakers in North Dakota are pursuing a measure to ban "sex selection" abortions, while Alabama's GOP legislative majorities are looking to impose new health and safety regulations for abortion providers. Arkansas' new Republican legislative majorities want to ban abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy.

"I think more of America is becoming more pro-life," said Dr. Melissa Colbern, who started a crisis pregnancy center in Topeka near the state Capitol last year. "I think maybe the culture is changing."

In the four decades since Roe v. Wade, a series of court decisions have narrowed its scope. With each decision, lawmakers in multiple states have followed up by making abortions more difficult to obtain or imposing restrictions on providers.

According to the New York-based Guttmacher Institute, a reproductive-rights think tank, 135 laws aimed in some way at restricting access to abortion were enacted in 30 states — most of them with Republican-controlled legislatures — in 2011 and 2012. More such measures already have been proposed in several states this year.

In Wyoming, for example, a pending bill would prohibit abortions after a fetal heartbeat is audible. A similar "heartbeat" bill is pending in Mississippi and one was debated but later sidetracked in Ohio last year.

In Texas, Republican Gov. Rick Perry has told lawmakers that he expects more anti-abortion laws during the 2013 session to work toward his goal "to make abortion at any stage a thing of the past." Anti-abortion activists have pledged to use every legal means possible to make obtaining abortions difficult, if not impossible, to obtain.

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