Although November’s mid-term elections halved the number of pro-life Democrats in the U.S. House of Representatives, there are hopeful signs for pro-life legislation in the New Year.
January will mark the beginning of the arguably most pro-life House ever,” according to a statement released by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chairman of the bi-partisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus. Incoming Speaker of the House John Boehner (R-Ohio) has stated that “he wants to be the most pro-life Speaker ever” and Americans United for Life chose Boehner for an award.
The House will likely tackle the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (HR 5939) in the upcoming legislative session. Introduced by Smith and Dan Lipinski (D-Ill.) in July, Smith said the bill is designed to protect conscience clauses in health care nation-wide. Protecting existing conscience rights remains a high priority in 2011. The Alliance Defense Fundsays that the Obama administration “wants to dismantle” a rule passed by the Bush administration in 2008 that prohibited recipients of federal money from discriminating against healthcare professionals refusing to participate in procedures, such as abortion, for reasons of conscience.
Prohibiting the use of federal money to support abortion providers, such as Planned Parenthood, will also appear on the legislative agenda. The Title 10 Abortion Provider Prohibition Act (HR 614), co-sponsored by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.), would prohibit all federal assistance to organizations performing abortions during the period of assistance. Pence said that the act would close the loopholes in the Hyde Amendment, which allows federally-funded organizations to perform abortions if such procedures are separately funded. In June,the Government Accountability Office foundthat over $1 billion in taxpayer money went to pro-abortion organizations in the past 8 years.
Various states are also expected to tackle pro-life issues in 2011. According to an unreleased NARAL Pro-Choice America analysispreviewed to Politico, the number of anti-abortion governors rose from 21 to 29 in the November election, and the number of states with governments where the governor and the majority legislature are both considered anti-abortion increased from 10 to 15.
In states ranging from Iowa to Tennessee, where anti-abortion legislation has often stalled in committee, anticipation is building that a change in leadership could change the prospects for pro-life legislation as well. Kansas provides one example, where current Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson vetoed a measure preventing the re-establishment of a late-term abortion clinic in the state (following the death of George Tiller and the subsequent closure of his clinic in Wichita). However, Parkinson’s replacement, Governor-elect Republican Sam Brownback, told supporters he would sign any pro-life bill that made it to his desk.
Following Nebraska’s lead—the state passed a late-term abortion ban this year based on the concept of fetal pain—pro-life organizations expect more states to challenge abortion laws by proposing restrictions related to fetus age. Several states, including Kansas, New Jersey, and South Carolina, considered bans on post-viability abortion (abortion past the age a fetus is considered able to live outside the womb) in 2010, according to Americans United for Life. Typically, the “post-viability” age is considered to be between 21 to 28 weeks (Roe v. Wade established viability as “about” 28 weeks); Nebraska’s ban sets the restriction back to 20 weeks. “[F]rom our perspective, if we aren't bucking up against Roe, we're not doing our job,” said Nebraska Right to Life Executive Director Julie Schmit-Albin. "So we did our job in Nebraska and now it's time for the other states to do their job."
Other possible state legislation proposing abortion restrictions will likely include laws requiring an ultrasound to be shown to the patient prior to an abortion--such as the one passed by Oklahoma this year--and measures responding to this year’s federal health care reform that would ban insurance coverage of abortion at the state level.