States have adopted 80 abortion restrictions in their 2011 legislative sessions, far exceeding the previous record of 34 from 2005, according to a July report by the Guttmacher Institute.
Of this unprecedented number, four states -- Alabama, Idaho, Kansas and Oklahoma -- enacted bans on abortions at 20 weeks' gestation or later based on evidence a baby in the womb experiences pain by that point. Another two states -- Missouri and Ohio -- approved prohibitions at 20 weeks or later based on fetal viability, which is the ability of the unborn child to live outside the womb.
Indiana also adopted a pain-capable abortion ban, as it is known, but it includes language providing discretion to abortion doctors that the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) considers a potential loophole.
Last year's election -- which swept a large number of pro-life candidates into state legislatures -- is a major reason for the rapid ascent in abortion restrictions.
"Obviously a lot of that is because elections do matter," said Mary Spaulding Balch, NRLC's director of state legislation. "In this last election, there was a wave of change in the direction of protecting the unborn child."
Passage of some of the new laws was based not just on the size of a Republican majority, however, she said.
"We have even had wins in states where it was bipartisan," Balch told Baptist Press. "It wasn't just one party that was becoming more active" in protecting the unborn, she said, citing as an example the North Carolina legislature's override of Democratic Gov. Beverly Perdue's veto of a bill requiring a 24-hour waiting period and an ultrasound display for a mother of her unborn child before an abortion. The override required Republican and Democratic votes.
Michael New, an assistant professor of political science at the University of Alabama and an expert on abortion-related state laws, agreed the 2010 election was one of the reasons for the vast increase in pro-life measures.
"This is partly because of the gains pro-lifers made in the 2010 elections," New wrote Aug. 5 in a blog post for National Review Online. "However, pro-life movement has also had to respond to the threat posed by Obamacare."
"Obamacare" is the term frequently used by critics of the 2010 health-care reform law, which pro-lifers oppose because it authorizes subsidies for insurance plans that cover abortion. Eight states enacted laws this year barring abortion coverage in insurance plans offered in the health exchanges established by last year's health reform.
The four states that enacted solid, pain-capable abortion bans followed the precedent set by Nebraska, which became in 2010 the first state to approve such a law. The legislation, typically named the Pain-capable Unborn Child Protection Act, usually sets the ban at 20 weeks of gestation, although Kansas' law is at 21 weeks.
The Missouri and Ohio bans enacted in July and based on the unborn child's viability take effect 20 weeks into pregnancy. Viability normally is considered to occur at 22 to 24 weeks.
Among many other types of abortion restrictions enacted by states this year are laws that:
-- Prohibit "telemedicine," or webcam, abortions, which occur when doctors at remote sites counsel by means of videoconferencing women seeking abortions and dispense the two-drug abortion method RU 486 to them without being in their physical presence.
-- Mandate new regulations for abortion clinics.
-- Ban state-controlled funding of Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers.
Balch is hopeful the wave of state restrictions will continue next year. She expects more states to enact pain-capable prohibitions, "telemedicine" abortion bans and opt-outs from abortion coverage in the health exchanges.
"We are gearing up for it," she said. "I fully expect to be very busy next year. There are states I know that are in good shape to pass some good laws next year."
Both Balch and New are optimistic about what the state actions signal in a more general sense.
"I think it is indicative of a change in the general position of the country, if you will," Balch said. "I think the young people who are now getting to the point that they should vote and are voting are more pro-life than" those who preceded them.
New said pro-lifers should be encouraged not only by the new state laws but by the results of a Gallup survey in July that showed from 64 to 87 percent of Americans back a variety of pro-life laws.
"hese trends in both state legislation and public opinion bode well for the future of the pro-life movement," New said.
The Guttmacher Institute formerly was affiliated with the Planned Parenthood Federation of America. While the organization continues to support abortion rights, its statistics are often cited by both pro-life and pro-choice advocates.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.
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