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News from the front

The top 10 pro-life stories of 2012

News from the front

STREET VALUE: Members of the Dominican Order protest the “contraceptive mandate.” (Rusty Constanza/The Times-Picayune/AP)

1. Conscience fight 

Dozens of Catholic and Protestant organizations and businesses became allies in 2012 while battling a common enemy: the Affordable Care Act’s “contraceptive mandate,” perhaps the largest threat to religious liberty in U.S. history. Along with eight states, the groups filed 41 lawsuits last year challenging the mandate, adding to two filed in 2011. Under the rules of the healthcare overhaul, employers must provide health insurance plans that cover sterilization, contraceptives, and some abortion-inducing drugs (like Plan B and Ella), or pay heavy fines. A religious exemption to the mandate applies to churches but currently is too narrow to include businesses or many charities.

In February the president announced a “compromise” that would shift the cost of the controversial services onto insurance companies. Religious employers recognized it as budgetary sleight of hand: Insurance companies would ultimately pass the cost back to employers in premium hikes.

Some for-profit businesses objecting to the contraceptive mandate threw their full weight into the fight. According to the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, by year-end nine companies suing the federal government over the insurance rules had obtained injunctions temporarily blocking the mandate. The Greens, the evangelical owners of craft store chain Hobby Lobby, didn’t. Denied a request for injunction Dec. 26, they chose to risk fines of up to $1.3 million per day beginning Jan. 1 rather than pay for abortifacient coverage.

2. Legalizing life 

Nineteen states enacted 43 restrictions on abortion services last year, making 2012 the second most successful year for pro-life legislative efforts since Roe. (In 2011, states enacted 92 restrictions.) According to the pro-abortion Guttmacher Institute, no legislature last year improved access to abortion.

Some states tightened regulation of abortion facilities, placed restrictions on drug-induced abortions, and required women seeking an abortion to listen to the heartbeats of their unborn children. Continuing a national trend begun in 2010, Louisiana, Arizona, and Georgia outlawed abortion at 18 or 20 weeks post-fertilization based on the fetal pain argument, although bans in the latter two states are tied up in court challenges. (See "Lately dead" in this issue.)

The legislative victories led to this complaint on the Jan. 14 cover of Time: “40 years ago, abortion rights activists won an epic victory with Roe v. Wade. They’ve been losing ever since.” (See "Forty years in the wilderness" in this issue.)

3. Forty abortion workers quit 

Former Planned Parenthood director Abby Johnson is surprised so many abortion industry employees want to follow her out the door. Johnson left her Planned Parenthood center of Bryan, Texas, in 2009 after witnessing on ultrasound the abortion of a 13-week baby. She went on to write the memoir Unplanned about her conversion to the pro-life perspective. Last June, after abortion workers had begun contacting her for help in leaving their own jobs, Johnson started an organization to support them called And Then There Were None (ATTWN).

By the end of the year, ATTWN had helped 40 workers make their exits. Johnson’s ministry provides legal assistance, spiritual counsel, and moral and financial support for workers leaving the industry, and helps them hunt for new jobs. In some cases, a worker leaving an abortion operation has a ripple effect on other employees: Six workers left a facility in Georgia, and five left one in Houston. At that rate of departure, Johnson hopes many of the nation’s 660 abortion centers will be forced to close their doors.

Her hopes appear to be coming true already—with some help from local fire codes. In December the fire marshal in Muskegon, Mich., shut down an abortion center while investigating a suspected break-in, citing unsafe conditions. The facility, Women’s Medical Services, was the former employer of an abortion worker ATTWN had assisted.

(Read more about Johnson’s organization at

4. Kill rate decline

In November the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced the number and rate of abortions had fallen 5 percent in 2009, the largest drop in at least a decade. That was good news for the unborn, but the picture was complicated. The CDC’s data included only 43 states, and it was unclear which factors besides the sour economy had the greatest influence on the abortion decline.

The factors included the expanding use of emergency contraceptives and long-lasting birth control (like the abortifacient Plan B and intrauterine devices), the growth of the pro-life movement, and shifting attitudes toward unborn children. Last May Gallup found only two out of five Americans describing themselves as “pro-choice” on abortion—the lowest figure since the polling group began asking the question in 1995.

5. Susan G. Komen in crisis 

Executives at the Susan G. Komen for the Cure foundation hoped for a quiet breakup when they told Planned Parenthood not to expect a repeat of the $680,000 in grants Komen had given the abortion provider in 2011. Instead, they endured an orchestrated attack campaign, with Planned Parenthood in January alerting media of Komen’s decision and accusing the breast cancer organization of defunding lifesaving screenings for low-income women.

Never mind that Planned Parenthood’s role in fighting breast cancer is peripheral, or that $680,000 represents a sliver of the abortion giant’s over $1 billion budget. Under pressure from liberal media and pro-abortion activists who raised a ruckus on social networks, the Komen board caved within three days and decided the organization wouldn’t rule out future grants to the abortion provider.

The imbroglio carried three benefits. First, many learned Planned Parenthood does not provide mammograms, despite its boasts about preventing breast cancer. Second, although Komen’s cave-in damaged its reputation among abortion opponents, the crisis let other organizations know what might happen if they bankrolled Planned Parenthood then tried to back out. Third, after pro-life Karen Handel, Komen’s senior vice president of public policy, resigned during the debacle, she wrote Planned Bullyhood, a book exposing the abortion provider’s Mafia-style tactics.

6. Pushing euthanasia 

Euthanasia figures released in 2012 showed troubling yet predictable trends in the Netherlands and Belgium, the first two nations to legalize the practice. In the Netherlands euthanasia deaths doubled from 2006 to 2011, reaching 3,695 that year. (The actual figure may be 4,500 since doctors don’t always report such deaths.)

Euthanasia accounts for nearly 3 percent of deaths in the Netherlands. In March a Dutch organization launched the “End of Life Clinic,” intended to send out mobile suicide assistance teams to the sick who cannot find a doctor willing to prescribe lethal drugs.

In Belgium, euthanasia deaths rose to 1,133 in 2011—tripling the country’s 2005 total. Apparently not content with that figure, Belgium lawmakers last month proposed legislation that would permit minors and people with Alzheimer’s disease to die under the 11-year-old euthanasia law.

The push to do away with the ailing wasn’t confined to Europe. In Massachusetts, advocates of assisted suicide placed a referendum on the Nov. 6 election ballot proposing to make the state the third, after Washington and Oregon, to legalize physician-assisted suicide. Voters rejected the measure, but just barely: Forty-nine percent were in support.

7. Defunding abortionists 

Ten states since 2011 have passed legislation or taken administrative action to strip abortion providers of tens of millions of dollars in taxpayer funding, according to the Susan B. Anthony List. Last year Planned Parenthood waged courtroom warfare against defunding efforts in Indiana and Texas.

Indiana legislators two years ago barred abortion providers from receiving Medicaid funds, even if the money was earmarked for services other than abortion. Planned Parenthood sued the state, and last October a federal appeals court sided with the abortion provider, blocking the defunding attempt. The three-judge panel ruled that since Planned Parenthood provides services other than abortion, such as medical exams and cancer screenings, complete defunding would interfere with Medicaid recipients’ “free choice of providers.”

“The state provides low-income women a primary care physician who can do everything Planned Parenthood clinics can and more,” said Sue Swayze, the legislative director at Indiana Right to Life. “It is bogus to say that they can’t get services elsewhere.”

After Texas lawmakers voted to disqualify groups that perform abortions—or their affiliates—from receiving Medicaid funds under the state’s Women’s Health Program, the Obama administration announced it would withhold federal funding for the program. Gov. Rick Perry pledged to continue paying for women’s health services out of state coffers, but Planned Parenthood, in multiple lawsuits filed in 2012 against Texas, urged state and federal judges to restore the organization’s ability to receive Medicaid funds. At the end of the year, the Texas Women’s Health Program was set to proceed without Planned Parenthood’s participation, with another court hearing on the matter scheduled for Jan. 11.

8. Abortion creep in Ireland 

Activists pushed abortion in Northern Ireland last year, with its first private abortion center opening amid pro-life protests in October. Abortion in Northern Ireland, a U.K. territory, is illegal unless a doctor declares a pregnancy would cause the mother long-term physical or emotional harm. The new abortion facility in Belfast, run by the Marie Stopes organization, is testing the law’s limit by offering drug-induced abortions for women up to nine weeks pregnant.

The adjoining Republic of Ireland took steps to legalize abortion in limited cases after the October death of Savita Halappanavar, a 31-year-old immigrant from India. Halappanavar’s husband claimed that after she arrived at a Galway hospital while suffering a miscarriage, doctors refused to abort her 17-week unborn baby for three days while the baby’s heart was still beating. (Investigators have not yet confirmed the husband’s account.) After the baby died, Halappanavar died of a septicemia infection.

The pro-abortion Irish Choice Network used the woman’s death to call for ending the nation’s abortion ban. Although the Supreme Court of Ireland said in 1992 that abortion was permissible when the mother faced a “real and substantial risk” to her life, legislators never instituted the ruling in law. In December government officials said they would force a vote in parliament this year on legislation permitting abortion to save a mother’s life or prevent her suicide.

9. Math, science, and Plan B 

Free birth control and condoms at public high schools: Old news to American parents, yet some were shocked to hear in September that New York City schools hand out abortifacient drugs at taxpayer expense. In a program piloted in 2011 but largely unnoticed, the city began providing girls as young as 14 with Plan B—the morning-after pill. Schools didn’t inform the students’ parents of the prescriptions, except for a one-time letter allowing them to opt out of the program.

Plan B had been available at city high schools for a few years, but only through privately-run clinics. The new city-sponsored program in its first year prescribed Plan B to 567 girls at five high schools. It expanded to 13 schools last year and in the fall began offering regular Depo-Provera birth control shots. Girls between the ages of 15 and 17 in New York City schools conceive over 7,000 pregnancies annually, with two-thirds ending in abortion.

10. Debate slip-ups

Mishandling of abortion questions contributed to the defeat of Republican candidates for the Senate in Missouri and Indiana. Rep. Todd Akin, running in Missouri, became a household name in August after he claimed pregnancy from rape was rare because during “a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down.” Mainstream media pounced. Akin apologized for his remark but ignored calls from some fellow conservatives for him to drop out of the Senate race. On Nov. 6 incumbent Democratic Sen. Claire McCaskill trounced Akin by 16 points.

In Indiana, Tea Party-backed candidate Richard Mourdock fell prey to similar criticism after an October debate, when he stated, “Even when life begins in that horrible situation of rape, that is something that God intended to happen.” Although Mourdock said he meant God creates life without condoning evil, he lost his Senate bid to Democrat Joe Donnelly by 6 percentage points. Afterward, Susan B. Anthony List president Marjorie Dannenfelser said her group would begin coaching pro-life candidates on handling the rape question before endorsing them. (See "Doing better on 'hard cases'" in this issue.)

— with reporting by Rachel Lynn Aldrich & Jim Edsall

Daniel James Devine

Daniel James Devine

Daniel is managing editor of WORLD Magazine and lives in Indiana. Follow Daniel on Twitter @DanJamDevine.