In 2011, antiabortion activists succeeded in passing 52 new abortion restrictions in 24 states—everything from mandated ultrasounds viewable by the patient to banned insurance coverage under President Obama’s health care reform. The major legal changes came incrementally and rarely kicked up any sustained media coverage: requiring parental consent—sometimes from both parents—for girls under 18; banning abortions that take place after the fetus can feel pain, around 20 weeks; and eliminating public funding of Planned Parenthood. These subtle tactics have created so much confusion and red tape, however, that those seeking abortions are often stymied. “The incremental strategy pursued by most pro-life groups is based on the idea that antiabortion laws, even if narrow, build on one another,” writes Fred Barnes, a proponent of the strategy, in The Weekly Standard (November 7, 2011).
The word abortion has been so vilified that even planned pregnancies that threaten the life of the mother are subject to unprecedented scrutiny. Such was the case with Judy Shackelford, who developed a dangerous and devastating blood clot four months into her wanted pregnancy. Even though her doctor advised terminating the fetus to save her life, writes The Progressive (July 2011), Shackelford still had to endure “the intrusive and useless state-mandated counseling, waiting period, and ultrasound—after she and her husband had already made their agonizing decision.”
The only positive news for the currently embattled pro-choice movement is that the foundation of Roe v. Wade, the precedent-setting Supreme Court decision that ultimately gives women the right to make choices about their own bodies, has yet to be overturned. Something progressives might want to consider as the election season kicks into high gear.