As the 40th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision approaches, there has been a flurry of mainstream-media coverage about the current state of abortion policy in the United States. This past Sunday, Sarah Kliff, of the Washington Post entered the fray. Her article focused on the history of the Allegheny Reproductive Health Center in Pittsburgh, Pa. — one of the longest continually operating abortion clinics in the United States. In so doing, Kliff provides some good background about the history of abortion politics, both in Pennsylvania and nationally.
The article presents a nice slice of pro-life history. It mentions the rescue movement, which faded quickly after President Clinton signed the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994. The article also provides a window to an era where the pro-life movement was considerably more bipartisan. In recent years, the states that have been most active in passing protective pro-life legislation have been heavily Republican states in the deep south. However, during the 1970s and 1980s, Pennsylvania was a national leader in passing pro-life legislation. Pro-labor Democrats from Pittsburgh and Philadelphia joined with Republicans elected from the central part of the state to create a consistent pro-life majority in the state legislature.
Indeed, Pennsylvania sent more abortion-related laws to the Supreme Court than any other state. Shortly after the Roe v. Wade decision, Pennsylvania was among the first states to attempt to restrict Medicaid funding for abortion. This occurred first through administrative action in 1973 then later through legislation enacted in 1974. This legislation was upheld by the Supreme Court in their 1977 Beal v. Doe decision. Later, when pro-life governor Bob Casey signed the Abortion Control Act in 1989, Pennsylvania became among the first states to pass a comprehensive informed-consent bill, which required that women view color photos of fetal development before obtaining an abortion. To this day, the National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) refers to such informed-consent bills as “Casey-style” legislation.
Much of Pennsylvania’s Abortion Control Act was upheld by the Supreme Court’s 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision. Most analysts agree that this decision led to a substantial increase in the amount of state level pro-life legislation that was enacted. The decision gave greater constitutional protection to parental-involvement laws, waiting periods, and informed-consent laws. Other regulations received constitutional protection as well. In 2011, Pennsylvania joined Virginia and Texas in passing legislation requiring surgical-abortion clinics to become certified as ambulatory surgical centers. The Washington Post article reports that eight of Pennsylvania’s 22 surgical-abortion providers failed to gain approval under the new law.
This Washington Post article had a number of similarities to the Time Magazine January 14 cover story. Both articles provide evidence that the incremental pro-life laws and regulations have been effective. In both articles, veteran supporters of legal abortion express concern that young physicians seem uninterested in providing abortions and that young professionals are uninterested in abortion-rights activism. Perhaps most important, both articles report that those who are involved with the provision of abortions are more pessimistic than they have ever been. All in all, pro-lifers should take heart. Despite suffering electoral setbacks in 2012, pro-lifers have plenty of reasons to be optimistic about the future.
— Michael New is an assistant professor at the University of Michigan – Dearborn, a fellow at the Witherspoon Institute, and an adjunct scholar at the Charlotte Lozier Institute. Follow him on Twitter @Michael_J_New