Earlier this month, pro-abortion research group the Guttmacher Institute released a policy analysis dubbing this year to date “The Worst Legislative Year Ever for U.S. Abortion Rights.” In the first half of 2021, states have passed 90 pro-life laws, a new record. The previous record was set in 2011, when 89 state-level pro-life bills were signed into law.
According to Guttmacher, 90 percent of the new pro-life laws this year have been enacted in states that the group deems “hostile” to abortion rights. On social media, Guttmacher has doubled down on this message, calling 2021 “the worst year for abortion rights and abortion access in U.S. History.”
This year’s legislative record at the state level is even more impressive than many observers realize. The 89 pro-life laws passed at the state level in 2011 were certainly a significant accomplishment for the pro-life movement, but it was also right after the Affordable Care Act had been enacted, and as a result, many of those laws were defensive in nature. For instance, some states passed laws protecting the conscience rights of health-care professionals, and others placed limits on taxpayer funding of abortion through government-subsidized insurance plans available on the state-based exchanges.
By contrast, most of the pro-life laws enacted this year represent substantive efforts to protect preborn children. Six states have enacted gestational age limits on abortion. Oklahoma and Texas have laws that would outlaw abortion in the event that Roe v. Wade is overturned and decisions about abortion policy return to the states. South Dakota governor Kristi Noem signed legislation that would protect preborn children who have been diagnosed with Down syndrome, and Arizona governor Doug Ducey signed a similar law to protect unborn children diagnosed with genetic abnormalities. Eight states have placed limits on the availability of chemical-abortion drugs, and five states have enacted laws to protect children born alive after an attempted abortion.
Many state legislatures meet only in the early part of the calendar year, so it is unlikely that this pace of pro-life legislation will continue through the rest of 2021. However, the success pro-lifers are enjoying at the state level certainly bodes well for the future. There are currently six justices on the Supreme Court who at some point have ruled in favor of laws protecting unborn children. While it is difficult to predict how the Court will rule on any specific pro-life law, the impressive number and variety of state pro-life laws offer the justices more opportunity to at some point uphold some of them, allowing pro-lifers to enact stronger legal protections for preborn children.