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Since 1973, the anti-abortion movement has engaged in numerous strategies and campaigns; from peaceful protest to outright terrorism to mobilizing political support for anti-choice legislation. Violent sectors of the movement have been responsible for killing abortion doctors, wounding staff, and bombing clinics. Anti-abortion advocates have harassed patients and threatened the families of health care workers.
For more than forty years, the movement has had one goal in mind: an outright ban on all abortions.
On January 22, anti-abortion activists and advocates will once gather at the National Mall in Washington, D.C. for its annual "March for Life." This year, there is un-likely to be any hitches in the giddy-up of the marchers, and the chanting from the crowd is apt to be louder than ever. That's because this year's "March for Life," held on the 41st anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 ruling which deemed abortion a fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution, is being staged against the backdrop of a wave of anti-abortion legislative victories in the states.
And many movement activists see these victories as paving the way to even more limits on access to abortion.
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The "March for Life" is unquestionably the biggest anti-abortion event of the year. Some years there is a huge turnout, with tens of thousands of people marching along the D.C. streets, while other years -- especially if the weather doesn't cooperate -- the crowd, while still enthusiastic, is less robust.
2013: "High-water mark for abortion foes"
A recent San Francisco Chronicle editorial pointed out that "This past year was a high-water mark for abortion foes." A report by the well-respected research organization, the Guttmacher Institute, noted that twenty-two states had adopted 70 provisions placing severe limits on access to abortion services.
According to Guttmacher, 2013 was "second only to 2011 in the number of new abortion restrictions enacted in a single year. To put recent trends in even sharper relief, 205 abortion restrictions were enacted over the past three years (2011–2013), but just 189 were enacted during the entire previous decade (2001–2010)."
"Forty-five percent of the abortion restrictions enacted over the last three years fall into four categories: targeted restrictions on abortion providers (TRAP), limitations on insurance coverage of abortion, bans on abortions at 20 weeks post fertilization (the equivalent of 22 weeks after a woman's last menstrual period) and limitations on medication abortion.
In the past few weeks alone the battle over abortion has gone national: Last week, the Supreme Court heard a challenge to the 35-foot buffer zones in front of health clinics which in part protect patients, doctors and clinic staff from being harassed and harangued by anti-abortion zealots.
At about the same time, the US House of Representatives Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and Civil Justice "marked up an antiabortion bill introduced by Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ)," Catholics for Choice recently noted.
"HR 7, the so-called 'No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act,' would expand existing federal policy banning federal funding for abortion to include any funding, subsidy or tax credit for insurance plans that cover abortion in private insurance."
Anti-abortion legislative initiatives
As the battle over abortion has moved to the states, the movement has experienced resounding success.
"All this legislative activity comes at a time when overall support for abortion rights in the United States has never been higher – in 2013, seven in 10 Americans said they supported upholding Roe v. Wade," Janet Reitman recently reported in Rolling Stone magazine. "But polls also show that more than half the country is open to placing some restrictions on abortion: Instead of trying to overturn Roe, which both sides see as politically unviable, they have been working instead to chip away at reproductive rights in a way that will render Roe's protections virtually irrelevant."
And like a sculptor patiently chiseling away, the right is effectively chipping away at abortion rights. "Since 2010, when the Tea Party-fueled GOP seized control of 11 state legislatures – bringing the total number of Republican-controlled states to 26 – conservative lawmakers in 30 states have passed 205 anti-abortion restrictions, more than in the previous decade," Reitman pointed out.
"What you're seeing is an underhanded strategy to essentially do by the back door what they can't do through the front," says Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights. "The politicians and organizations advancing these policies know they can't come right out and say they're trying to effectively outlaw abortion, so instead, they come up with laws that are unnecessary, technical and hard to follow, which too often force clinics to close. Things have reached a very dangerous place."
The Guttmacher Institute noted that while legislative initiatives in California "significantly improve[d] access to early abortion services by expanding the types of providers permitted to perform either medication or surgical abortions," they were not the norm. "The overwhelming preponderance of legislation [in the states] concerning abortion was aimed at restricting access to the procedure," Guttmacher concluded.
(Photo: Mike Doughney)