This month, the Guttmacher Institute released an interesting analysis of trends in state level pro-life legislation. It shows that much of the recent success that pro-lifers have had in passing state-level pro-life laws has been concentrated in conservative states in the South and Midwest. These states have been more likely to enact a variety of pro-life laws including waiting periods, parental-involvement laws, and informed-consent provisions. Not surprisingly, the Guttmacher analysts find this alarming. They have promoted their report by stating that more than half of all reproductive-age women live in states that are “hostile” to abortion rights.
Indeed, the polarization of the two major political parties in this country has had some interesting implications for the pro-life movement. There are two often-overlooked factors that have led to the passage of more state-level pro-life laws. First is the fact that the Republican party has become more consistently pro-life during the past 20 years. Second, Republicans have begun to win legislative chambers in conservative southern states that have been historically dominated by Democrats. When Republicans take control of the state legislature in these conservative states, the end result is usually a significant increase in the number of pro-life laws enacted.
However, there is some downside to this. As Republican officeholders have become more consistently pro-life, Democratic elected officials have become more consistently supportive of legal abortion. This means that pro-life legislative initiatives face long odds in blue states – even when these initiatives enjoy broad public support. Interestingly, it was not always this way. The pro-life movement used to be more bi-partisan. among the first states to pass pro-life parental-involvement laws during the early 1980s were Democratic strongholds Massachusetts, Minnesota, and Rhode Island.
However, all is not lost. The gains that pro-lifers have made in the court of public opinion have led to pro-life progress in nearly every state. The percentage of Americans who describe themselves as pro-life has increased anywhere from 10 to 15 percentage points since the mid-1990s. As such, it should come as no surprise that more states have been passing pro-life laws. Indeed, the Guttmacher analysis candidly admits that the number of states supportive of abortion rights “shrank considerably” since 2000. All in all, this analysis both demonstrates that local pro-life efforts are bearing fruit and paints an optimistic picture for continued pro-life success in the states.
— 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. Follow him on Twitter at @Michael_J_New.