Capitol Gains: New Strategies Are Paying off for the Pro-Life Movement

By Alessi, Scott | U.S. Catholic, January 2012 | Go to article overview

Capitol Gains: New Strategies Are Paying off for the Pro-Life Movement


Alessi, Scott, U.S. Catholic


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Last year a bill came before the Ohio state legislature that held the potential for the biggest pro-life victory since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision. The law proposed a ban on abortion from the time a fetus' heartbeat could be detected, effectively cutting the window of opportunity for a woman to end her pregnancy to as little as six weeks. Yet as some rallied in anticipation of what appeared to be a watershed moment, representatives of Ohio Right to Life, one of the state's most prominent pro-life voices, chose to remain quietly on the sidelines.

"We just don't know that it is the right strategy," says Stephanie Krider, Ohio Right to Life's director of legislative affairs.

Scott Alessi is assistant editor of U.S. Catholic.

For the young but savvy Krider, who began advocating for pro-life legislation two years ago, strategy is the key word in tackling abortion. Rather than focus their efforts on the "heartbeat bill," which even if passed in the legislature would likely face strong scrutiny from the courts, Ohio Right to Life has instead devoted its energy to less restrictive bills that could be more effective in the long run.

They've seen the passage of a law that prevents abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, the point at which an infant could live outside the womb, and they've supported a bill that would strengthen requirements for minors to receive a parent's permission before having an abortion.

Such laws don't put an end to abortion, but they are steps in the right direction that can make an immediate impact. "We really try to be strategic and to think these things through," Krider says. "We're not just throwing pro-life laws out there to see what happens. We are really targeting this to try and overturn Roe eventually."

A similar approach has taken hold in states throughout the country, leading to a wide range of new laws that have broadened the scope of the pro-life movement. Banning abortion is still the ultimate goal, but passionate pleas for a reversal of Rs slowly but surely being overshadowed by well-calculated, carefully planned ;~r' i t;atives that take a more incremental approach. And clearly the new strategy is proving effective.

According to the Guttmacher Institute, 80 new laws dealing with abortion were enacted in 19 states in the first half of 2011 alone, more than triple the total number of laws limiting abortion passed the previous year. These legislative efforts cover limitations on when and where abortions can take place, restrictions on how they are paid for, and regulations governing the doctors and clinics that provide them.

Meanwhile, several states have attempted to pass laws that would impose much broader restrictions on abortion, such as Ohio's "heartbeat bill." Mississippi garnered national attention in 2011 for placing a "personhood amendment" on its ballot, giving voters an opportunity to legally define an unborn fetus as a person, which in turn would make abortion, and even some forms of contraception, prosecutable under the law.

Such sweeping efforts to eliminate abortion are finding less success, however. On November 8 Mississippi voters soundly rejected the "personhood amendment," as did voters in Colorado when similar amendments were proposed in 2008 and 2010. But Personhood USA, the organization behind the initiative, says they are already working on getting the measure on ballots in six additional states in 2012.

Supply and demand

Longtime pro-life advocate Helen Alvare doesn't recall there ever being an official declaration that the pro-life movement would shift its focus to an emphasis on laws that limit abortion. "But it is working," says Alvare, a former pro-life spokesperson for the U.S. bishops who is now a law professor at George Mason University School of Law in Fairfax, Virginia.

She says that today's new generation of innovative, media-savvy pro -life advocates look at abortion as a business that has both a supply side and a demand side.

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