Last week, the Washington Post’s Wonkblog posted a story by Sarah Kliff about the success that pro-lifers enjoyed enacting incremental state-level laws this past year. The Guttmacher Institute reports that 83 pro-life laws were passed in 2011, than double the previous record of 34, enacted in 2005, and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010.
Kliff attributes this increase in pro-life laws to the political gains that Republicans made during the 2010 election. While there is certainly some truth to this, there are a number of long term trends that escape Kliff’s attention. First, since the mid-1990s, the Republican party has become a more uniformly pro-life party, so when Republicans possess unified control of government, they face fewer internal obstacles to the passage of pro-life laws. Also, many recent Republican political victories have occurred in Southern and Midwestern states where Democrats have historically controlled the state legislatures, and newly elected Republican majorities have succeeded in passing pro-life laws in a number of these states, including Alabama and Michigan.
There were also a number of circumstantial factors that led to the passage of more pro-life laws last year. Eight states responded to the threat posed by Obamacare by banning abortion coverage in new insurance exchanges. Technological developments prompted five states to ban the use of telemedicine for the provision of abortion medication. There was also the Live Action Films video series, coupled with fiscal shortfalls, which resulted in nine states cutting funding to Planned Parenthood.
Kliff, like many commentators, takes considerable pains to portray the Roe v. Wade decision as moderate and reasonable, stating that it “gave states a fair amount of leeway in shaping access.” In reality, Roe took abortion policy away from the states and prevented states from providing legal protection to the unborn. However, subsequent Supreme Court decisions — most notably the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision — have given state-level pro-life laws greater constitutional protection. There is a good chance that future Supreme Court decisions will continue this trend, so the state-level gains that pro-lifers enjoyed in 2011 bode well for the future of the movement.
— Michael J. New is an assistant professor of political science at the University of Michigan–Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C.