Abortion-Rights Advocates Hold Momentum as States Review Laws
Marshall Ingwerson, writer of The Christian Science Monitor, The Christian Science Monitor
ADVOCATES of abortion rights have held the political momentum since last summer - out-organizing, out-fund-raising, and out-campaigning anti-abortion activists.
Their most recent victory came in Connecticut Monday when Gov. William O'Neill, a Democrat, signed a liberal abortion-rights law.
But the abortion-rights battle remains a defensive one. Abortion has become slightly more restricted in the United States since the Supreme Court ruling last July that opened the door for states to limit the practice.
State legislative sessions this year are expected by both sides to produce some far more strict limits on access to abortion.
Some of these state laws will almost certainly be tested in the Supreme Court, defining the new limits to state power over the abortion decision. Before the ruling last July, the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision barred most state abortion restrictions.
The next battleground is likely to be in Louisiana. Seven bills have been introduced to the legislature that ban abortion except to save the life of the mother or in cases of rape and incest. One of the bills makes no exception for cases of rape and incest.
Pro-choice activists believe one of these bills is likely to pass and become a test case in the Supreme Court.
If the Supreme Court upholds such a law, says Kate Michelman, director of the National Abortion Rights Action League, it opens the way for other states to bar the vast majority of abortions.
"It will only take one bill by one anti-choice legislature, signed by one anti-choice governor, to go to the Supreme Court and unravel free choice for all women in the country," she says.
The US territory of Guam already passed a ban March 8 on any abortion except in cases of serious threat to the pregnant woman's health. The law has been enjoined from enforcement while federal courts review it. Most activists expect a better test of the Supreme Court's new limits on abortion law to come from states such as Louisiana, however.
A large number of women stand to be affected by abortion law. By the time American women reach 45, 46 percent have had an abortion, according to studies by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a policy research corporation. Every year, 1.5 million abortions are performed in the US, ending nearly a third of all pregnancies.
The US rate of abortion is only a fraction of that in many communist countries, according to the institute. But Americans are far more likely to have abortions than women in other Western developed countries.
Although birthrates are similar in the US to those in France or Canada, American rates of pregnancy are far higher. …