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State of the states

ABORTION: A new report says legislatures in the South and the Midwest are helping create a culture of life, while Northeastern and Western states rank the lowest in abortion-related safety for women, the unborn, and the newly born

WHAT A DIFFERENCE A STATE makes. Compare, for example, the safety of a young girl facing a crisis pregnancy in Pennsylvania versus New Jersey. In Pennsylvania, a minor seeking an abortion must obtain at least one parent's consent. Abortionists in that state must also inform patients about the physical and emotional risks of having an abortion as a young girl.

But when a Pennsylvania teenager ("Sarah," as she was referred to in a lawsuit) became pregnant at 16, a high-school guidance counselor told her how to get around all that: All Sarah needed to do was cross the state line. The counselor then arranged for the teen a secret abortion in neighboring New Jersey, where no laws require parental involvement or informed consent. That was in 1998. In 2000, after being diagnosed with abortion-related post-traumatic stress syndrome and learning that studies link abortion with breast cancer (ABC connection), Sarah sued abortionist Charles Benjamin and the Cherry Hill Women's Center in Cherry Hill, N.J. Her lawsuit alleged that Dr. Benjamin and his clinic should be held liable for violating Pennsylvania laws meant to protect her.

In October 2003, on the eve of trial, the defendants settled out of court, agreeing to pay an undisclosed sum to cover Sarah's post-abortion counseling and future health care. The case underscores the importance of state-level pro-life legislation. It also brings into sharp relief the relative safety of women and the unborn in some states as compared with others.

Pennsylvania and New Jersey fall at opposite ends of that spectrum in a new report that ranks all 50 states based on their abortion-related level of safety for women, the unborn, and the newly born. A project of Americans United for Life (AUL), a nonprofit bioethics law firm based in Chicago, the report ranks the states according to specific legal questions, such as:

Does the state require parental consent or notification before a minor can obtain an abortion?

Does it require abortion clinics to meet certain medical and administrative standards?

Are abortionists required to inform women of the health risks of abortion, and/or the link between abortion and breast cancer?

Does the state require a reflection period before a woman can have an abortion?

AUL also evaluated states on government funding and insurance coverage of abortions; abortion reporting requirements; post-viability abortion bans; and the existence of laws that protect unborn babies, newborn infants, and women who choose to leave newly born babies at certain safe locations rather than aborting them. Finally, the group analyzed each state's governor and lawmakers: Did key officeholders support life-affirming legislation?

"The project is designed to emphasize the importance of state legislation, to show the strides we have made at the state level, and to educate citizens and policymakers on a range of pro-life issues," said AUL staff counsel Denise Burke.

While pro-life cheers went up in November 2003 after Congress passed-and President Bush signed-a law banning partial-birth abortion, that federal action followed similar state-level action nationwide. By 2000, 31 states had banned the late-term procedure in which an abortionist partially delivers a child, then kills her by stabbing her in the head and suctioning out her brain. (The Supreme Court case Stenberg vs. Carhart nullified 30 of those bans.) "When Congress passes legislation designed to protect women and children, it is often simply following a path already forged by the states," Ms. Burke said.

Ten states lead the way in passing laws designed to protect women and children from the dangers of abortion on demand. Louisiana tops the list, followed by Texas, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Arkansas, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, South Dakota, and South Carolina.

The Democrat-led Louisiana legislature in 2003 appropriated $1.5 million in federal TANF (Temporary Assistance for Needy Families) funds for alternatives-to-abortion services including pregnancy testing, food, clothing, counseling, and adoption services. State lawmakers also passed a resolution directing the Louisiana health department to comply with current law by reporting abortion statistics and complications by parish and municipality.

All of AUL's "10 Most Protective States" require that abortionists provide a woman with fetal-development and abortion-risk information, including-and this varies by state-the probable gestational age of her child, the physical and emotional dangers of abortion, and the link between abortion and breast cancer. Eight of the top 10 states require a 24-hour reflection period between the time an abortionist provides such information and the time he or she aborts a child.

Contrast that with the state AUL named the most dangerous: Vermont, the home state of Democratic presidential hopeful Howard Dean, a former Planned Parenthood physician. While serving as governor of Vermont, Mr. Dean proposed, as part of a larger universal healthcare plan, $5 abortions for poor women. The plan didn't pass, but a staunchly left-wing Senate has since routinely killed measures that would in any way regulate or restrict abortions.

The rest of AUL's "10 Most Dangerous States," in order of worst to marginally better: Oregon, Hawaii, New Hampshire, Alaska, New Mexico, New Jersey, Maryland, California, and Montana. Ms. Burke notes that the most dangerous states tend to be in the West and Northeast, "where liberal values are stronger, while Christianity and traditional morality are often ridiculed." Many of the most dangerous states also have interpreted their constitutions to afford women a broader "right" to abortion than that established by Roe vs. Wade. That ensures that even common-sense laws, such as parental involvement or informed consent, are quickly branded "unconstitutional."

AUL's report named three states-Texas, Missouri, and Minnesota-"most improved" on issues of abortion-related safety. Texas and Minnesota in 2003 joined Kansas, Louisiana, and Mississippi as the only states that require healthcare workers to inform women of the link between abortion and breast cancer. Missouri legislators, meanwhile, mustered enough votes to override Gov. Bob Holden's veto of informed-consent legislation. That law is now, of course, in litigation.

AUL will post its full report at later this month. "We hope the project will encourage people to be active and informed at the state and local levels," said Ms. Burke, "because that is where we are winning the battle to create a culture of life."

Lynn Vincent

Lynn Vincent

Lynn is a senior writer for WORLD Magazine. She is the New York Times best-selling author or co-author of a dozen non-fiction books, including Same Kind of Different as Me. Lynn resides in San Diego, Calif.