Even as a contentious Supreme Court nomination deepens political rifts, Democrats seek to grab Republican House seats by playing to the center
Last year Markai Durham, a girl featured on MTV's 16 and Pregnant with her boyfriend James, found herself pregnant again. She explored her options, talked with her mother and best friend, and discussed with her boyfriend their financial situation and the daughter they already had. Then she made the choice they all said only she could make. But the pain seeped through.
Markai's voice broke when she called the abortion business to ask for information: "Afterwards, do you know, like, how I'll be or how I'll feel?" After the abortion, when her boyfriend called her baby a "thing," she lashed out: "You would never feel my pain. You weren't the one in the surgery room. I was there." Markai pointed to their curly-haired baby, "A 'thing' can turn out like that. . . . 'Nothing but a bunch of cells' can be her."
Georgette Forney, president of Anglicans for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, said that Markai's outburst shows how almost 40 years of legal abortion has not made it acceptable. "We've won the battle that it's a baby," she said, crediting embryoscopy and 4-D ultrasounds that show the life in the womb. Now the major argument of abortion advocates is that women need abortion anyway, an argument countered by the pain that women like Forney and Markai feel afterward.
Abortion advocates now have to acknowledge the pain, said Forney, but they dismiss it as fleeting. The MTV episode showed Markai a few months after her abortion celebrating her daughter Zakari's first birthday and saying she has come to terms with her decision. MTV interviewed Markai along with two other poised post-abortive young women, all of whom said their choice was painful but correct. But Forney said MTV should check 30 years from now, when the pain hasn't diminished: "Truth is on our side and sadly, the truth is realized in the lives of millions of women whose hearts are broken, who are grieving for their children."
The latest statistics from the Guttmacher Institute reveal that the national rate of abortion has stalled after declining for 15 years. The abortion rate increased slightly from 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2005 to 19.6 abortions in 2008. But while the national rate stayed almost the same, some states saw large fluctuations: Abortions increased 38 percent in Louisiana but declined 45 percent in Washington, D.C. States see dramatic declines, according to research by University of Alabama assistant professor Michael New, when they pass pro-life legislation like parental notification laws.
Last year a wave of such bills offered new protections for unborn children and their mothers-89 new reproductive health laws enacted in 32 states and the District of Columbia in 2010, according to Guttmacher. That's an increase from 77 laws in 2009 and just 33 enacted in 2008. Nebraska may have the most significant change: Its new law bans abortion after 20 weeks, when some fetal researchers say the unborn child feels pain.
November's election results mean a bigger wave is likely this year. Before the last election, 52 of the 88 state legislatures (about 60 percent) were Democrat-controlled. That balance flip-flopped when the Republicans picked up 20 legislative chambers and brought their number up to 53. Seven states switched from Democratic control to total GOP control in the House, Senate, and governor's chair-some for the first time in years. The number of governors opposed to abortion increased from 21 to 29, according to a grumpy analysis by NARAL Pro-Choice America.
Sue Ellspermann, who won election to the Indiana House of Representatives, typifies the newcomers. A life-long Catholic, Ellspermann held only a personal objection to abortion before she started volunteering to do strategic planning for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. Then she came to believe that our laws should reflect pro-life values. She chose to run for the Indiana House on a platform endorsing "the sanctity of life" because the House's lack of a pro-life majority made pro-life legislation hard to pass.
Indiana became one of the states where Republicans won a majority in both houses-after Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives for eight of the last 10 years. Of the 15 freshmen entering the legislature this year, 14 received endorsements from Indiana Right to Life, which made an explicit policy this year of never endorsing Democrats. Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, said that IRTL-endorsed candidates promoted their endorsement more openly than in previous years.
Fichter also notes that the state elected not just pro-life legislators but also a pro-life attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and state auditor: "It's much more than a Republican groundswell in Indiana. It's a pro-life Republican groundswell." He expects to see 20 pro-life bills-some variations of the same bill-proposed in both the Senate and House this year. Ellspermann is sponsoring legislation that would strengthen the informed-consent law.
In Pennsylvania, which now has a pro-life governor for the first time in eight years, legislators are expecting to look at a bill opting out of abortion coverage in the new healthcare exchange. Charlene Bashore, legislative director for the Pennsylvania Pro-Life Federation, said his allies may sponsor legislation modeled after Nebraska's fetal pain law and its legislation offering ultrasounds to pregnant women who are considering abortions. Although Pennsylvania had some strong pro-life Democrats in the House, the switch from Democrat to Republican is significant because a pro-life advocate, Mike Turzai, is now majority leader.
In Kansas, Democratic Governor Mark Parkinson last April vetoed a bill that would have kept out late-term abortion businesses, would have allowed patients or family members to sue abortionists more readily, and would have required abortionists to report more details to the state of abortions performed after the 21st week of pregnancy. But now former U.S. Sen. Sam Brownback, a Republican, sits in the governor's chair and has said he will sign any pro-life bill the Kansas legislature passes.
The Oklahoma legislature last year passed a bill requiring an ultrasound to be shown to the patient prior to an abortion, and it's likely that legislators in Kansas and other states will do the same.
As the public mood changes, some existing laws are now being enforced, thanks to people with determination. Eileen Smith is one of them: After her 22-year-old daughter Laura died in 2007 on the operating table of Rapin Osathanondh, an abortionist who was a research associate at the Harvard School of Public Health, Smith's lawyer told her that calls to the district attorney and medical examiner were probably futile. But the mother-who was living at her sister's house and falling asleep at her computer each night in her quest for justice-persisted.
Prosecutors eventually charged Osathanondh with manslaughter, alleging that he failed to monitor her while she was under anesthesia, delayed calling emergency services when her heart stopped, and later lied to try to cover up his actions. The state Board of Registration found that Osathanondh did not have any means of monitoring the heart of Smith, who was 13 weeks pregnant, and did not have oxygen or a functioning blood pressure cuff in the room. The Board also alleged that he "failed to adhere to basic cardiac life support protocol" and did not call an ambulance in a timely manner.
Laura Smith's father, Tom Smith, described how he and his wife adopted Laura after she was left in an orphanage in her native Honduras and later abused by an American couple. He said she sang in a choral group and was in demand to sing the national anthem at school ball games.
On Sept. 13, 2010, just as his trial was about to begin, and facing a potential prison term of 20 years, Osathanondh pleaded guilty to manslaughter. He received a sentence of six months in prison and a ban on ever again working as a doctor or teaching medicine. The plea bargain required him to pay the Smiths $1 million out of his own pocket along with the $1 million the insurance company paid out.
Eileen Smith had an opportunity in court to give a victim's impact statement. She turned to Osathanondh and said that she prayed he would turn to God's mercy so that he didn't have to fall on God's justice. Smith has become a national speaker on pro-life issues: Mothers who turned against abortion after hearing Laura's story sometimes send her pictures of their babies, which leads Smith to conclude that Laura "didn't die in vain. God is using her death to save babies, and that's a comfort to me, that justice continues to be done."
Some cases against abortionists advanced in other states as well last year. The Kansas State Board of Healing Arts (KSBHA) had announced in 2009 a closing of the file on late-term abortionist George Tiller after a gunman killed him. Pro-life advocates thought the file on the other medical professional involved in Tiller's practice-Ann Kristin Neuhaus, the physician who signed off on the late-term abortions Tiller performed-also was closed.
Last July, though, the KSBHA informed Cheryl Sullenger, senior adviser for Operation Rescue and the person who filed the complaint against Neuhaus, that the case was still open and that it was pursuing charges against Neuhaus. According to the KSBHA petition, Neuhaus now faces charges of failure to perform adequate patient review, failure to keep adequate medical records, and medical negligence. Lisa Corwin, public information officer for the KSBHA, said that after each side presents evidence at hearings in April and May, the Office of Administrative Hearings will make a recommendation to the KSBHA and it will determine an appropriate action.
Medical personnel are increasingly unwilling to participate in some or all abortions. After the University of Wisconsin's Surgical Center in Madison announced in early 2009 a plan to perform second-trimester abortions, Nancy Fredericks and two of her fellow anesthesiologists-three of the four on staff-said they would not participate in the procedure. Fredericks then argued that it wasn't safe to perform a procedure in a place where only a few doctors and nurses were willing participants. When the procedure goes wrong and there are emergencies, other staffers would have to step in or decide where to draw the line: Could their consciences let them assist with the aftermath of an abortion?
While Fredericks stated her case on the inside, defending rights of conscience that had legal standing because pro-life legislators had years before passed laws asserting them, pro-life activists conducted regular protests outside the surgical center. Fredericks said she owes "a debt of gratitude" to the pro-lifers who rallied around her. Last month the University of Wisconsin officially dropped its plan to offer abortions, saying leaders were concerned about patient safety and security. Fredericks says, "It does feel like a victory. It really does. . . . The right thing happened."
In 2010 abortion supporters continued to worry about the graying of abortion providers. They passed around a report from the Center for Reproductive Rights bemoaning a 37 percent decrease in abortion providers since 1982; now, seven out of eight U.S. counties have no abortionists. The majority of abortionists are age 50 or older and, according to Medical Students for Choice, only 13 percent of OB/GYN residents provide abortions.
Abortion supporters have routinely attributed the decrease to violence and harassment from pro-lifers, but a 2010 University of California-San Francisco study paints a different picture. This survey found that only half of the OB/GYNs who intended to perform abortions actually performed them, and the number is low not "out of fear of violence or harassment" but rather because the medical profession simply doesn't welcome abortion. Either their practices don't allow it or their colleagues disapprove.
Joe DeCook, vice president and director of operations for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said so many doctors are uncomfortable with abortion because it goes against the reason most of them decided to practice medicine in the first place: "Pregnancy is not a disease. Pregnancy is not an illness, so abortion is not healthcare." In Wisconsin, Nancy Fredericks noted that even doctors who supported abortion didn't want to perform one: "It's easy to be an armchair politically correct person. But it's another thing to actually go and participate in a procedure."
Until Roe v. Wade is overturned, state legislators and judges still face severe limitations-but last year the impact of a 2007 Supreme Court decision, Gonzales v. Carhart, became apparent. Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion declared, "Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child," and opined that the State has an interest in ensuring that "so grave a choice" as abortion is made with adequate information.
Kennedy's opinion also gave state legislators more opportunity to pass laws in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty. As Helen Alvare, associate professor of family law at George Mason University, explains, that decision is significant because for the first time, the Court spoke not just of the mother as an "atomistic individual making choices about her life," but suggested that abortion law could be viewed in the context of family law and familial relationships.
In 2010 Kennedy's decision emboldened legislators in several states to pass informed-consent laws that require either abortion counseling or a 24-hour waiting period. Based on the argument that unborn children feel pain at 20 weeks, Nebraska banned abortion after that gestational age. More states this year may do the same. Last year legislators in Kansas, New Jersey, South Carolina, and other states debated bans on abortion when an unborn child is "viable," able to stay alive outside the womb.
In Washington, the new GOP majority in the House of Representatives will be challenged to demonstrate that it is, in the words of Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the "most pro-life House ever." Smith, who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, is pushing for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (see p. 54), and hopes to protect conscience clauses that would protect pro-lifers from forced involvement in abortion. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, says he wants to be "the most pro-life speaker ever," and pro-life groups plan to hold him to that.
Much needs to be done throughout the United States, particularly in those states and cities that remain abortion havens. One set of statistics released early this month shows the problem: The New York City Health Department reported that four out of every 10 pregnancies in the Big Apple ended in abortion in 2009: some 87,273 abortions and 126,774 live births.
Overall, New York City's abortion rate is more than twice the national average of 19 percent. On the eve of Black History Month, the report showed the damage to be greatest among African-Americans: 60 percent of pregnancies among them led to abortion. The toll among other demographic groups was also large: 41 percent for Hispanics, 22 percent for Asian-Americans, and 20 percent for white women.
The New York City Council, faced with this reality, has busied itself with a bill restricting the advertising of pro-life pregnancy centers, but pro-life activists from across the country are fighting back. At a Jan. 10 rally in New York City, pro-life leaders from Texas, California, and Georgia addressed a raucous crowd about the dangers of the bill and about the growing "third wave" of the pro-life movement-African-Americans. Seven African-American leaders spoke to the crowd, including Alveda King, niece of civil-rights icon Martin Luther King Jr. Catherine Davis-leader of Operation Outrage, a campaign to educate African-Americans about abortion-said the room contained more black people than any pro-life meeting she'd seen in years. She urged her fellow African-Americans to "ratchet up the fight," speaking of her time growing up in the projects and having to fight every day.
"I have never in my life fought like a girl," Davis said as she mimicked a girl flailing her arms with her eyes closed. "When I threw a punch, I threw a punch to take you down. I am inviting you today to throw the knockout punch to abortion."