As Abortion Limits Sweep US, Even 'Purple' States Join the Crackdown

Article excerpt

Mary Lucas, clad in a pink Planned Parenthood T-shirt, holds onto her handmade poster resolutely: "If NC legislators are against Sharia law, WHY are they trying to impose it on NC women?"

She's one in a sea of fellow North Carolinians agitating outside the state legislature as part of the 11th "Moral Monday" protest - a weekly cri de coeur organized by the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People against the state's new conservative tilt. The focus of this evening is women's reproductive rights.

Before the night was out, 101 people would be arrested for civil disobedience.

Before the end of July, the legislature would pass and the newly elected Republican governor would sign a series of new regulations on abortion, including tougher rules for clinic facilities and doctors.

The measure's proponents say they are protecting women, especially after the gruesome revelations that came out of the recent murder trial of Philadelphia abortionist Kermit Gosnell. Opponents say the requirements are costly and unnecessary and could drive many of the state's 16 clinics out of business.

Forty years after the US Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide in Roe v. Wade, the abortion wars are raging as hot as ever. From Texas to North Carolina to Wisconsin to Ohio, to name just the most recent examples, states across America are enacting new restrictions in a wave that began in 2011 - a direct result of the conservative backlash of 2010 that swept Republicans into power in the US House, state legislatures, and governor's chairs. Some have made regulating abortion a top priority.

If 2011 saw a peak in the passage of post-Roe abortion restrictions at the state level - 92 - then 2013 is poised to come in second. As of July 30, the number of new restrictions is at 55, past the total of 43 for all of 2012, according to the pro-abortion- rights Guttmacher Institute, which researches reproductive health matters.

And like the political map of the country, divvied up into red and blue states, so, too, are the states increasingly polarized over abortion. Solid-red Texas now has some of the toughest restrictions in the nation, including a just-signed ban on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy. At the other end of the spectrum, solid-blue California is moving to expand access to early-term abortions by allowing nurse practitioners, nurse midwives, and physician assistants to perform certain types.

A survey by the Pew Research Center released July 29 shows that while public opinion nationally on abortion has held fairly steady, regional differences are widening. Opposition to abortion in the South has grown markedly in the past 20 years even as other parts of the nation - such as New England - have seen support rise.

But in the realm of new abortion laws, there are far more Texases than Californias. And now there's a new wrinkle: Moderate, battleground states - the "purple" states that decide presidential races, such as North Carolina, Ohio, Wisconsin, and Virginia - are joining the abortion crackdown as never before. In 2008, all four voted for Barack Obama for president. In 2012, all but North Carolina voted to reelect him.

Their recent moves guarantee that the abortion issue will be front and center in the next election. "North Carolina tells the story of a number of states that have become much more energized around the abortion issue than they have in a long time," says Elizabeth Nash, state issues manager at the Guttmacher Institute. "There just aren't that many states in the middle on abortion anymore."

States are also increasingly polarized over broader issues of reproductive health - access to birth control (by defunding Planned Parenthood at the state level), the approach to sex education in schools, and how reproductive health intersects with "Obamacare." As of July 1, twenty-two states prohibit abortion coverage in the state health-insurance exchanges that are being set up. …