February 10, 2011 / 8:36 PM / 9 years ago

New abortion restrictions possible in U.S

CHICAGO (Reuters Life!) - From bans on late-term abortions to requiring providers to offer women sonograms of their fetuses, conservative lawmakers in the United States are pushing abortion curbs this year in dozens of states.

Some bills may have a greater chance of success this year than in the past because there are more conservative legislators and governors.

“I am actually looking forward to a number of victories,” said Mary Spaulding Balch, director of the department of state legislation of the National Right to Life Committee.

“We’re very worried,” said Donna Crane, policy director for NARAL Pro-Choice America. Crane said that because anti-abortion forces have more votes, “the flood gates are open.”

The main reason those seeking abortion restrictions are on the offensive is the Republican sweep in midterm elections last year. Although it is not always the case, most Republicans tend to oppose abortion and most Democrats support it.

Republicans gained nearly 700 state legislative seats and now have their largest numbers since the Great Depression, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Republicans now have majority control of the state legislatures in 25 states, Democrats 16 states and the parties share control in eight states. Nebraska does not give party affiliation. Republicans also hold 29 governorships to 20 for Democrats and one independent.

Among the more than 200 bills being proposed this year are an Ohio measure that would ban abortions once a heartbeat can be detected — as early as 18 days for some women.

In several states, including Ohio, Florida, Kansas and Kentucky, measures were introduced banning abortion after 20 weeks. These mimic a Nebraska law which bans abortion after a fetus is deemed capable of feeling pain.

Lawmakers also are proposing bills that would limit abortion coverage in state health plans under the new healthcare law, and new parental consent requirements, according to Elizabeth Nash, public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization.

Nash said she thought that the states, burdened by budget deficits, would focus on fiscal issues before moving to social policies.

“But it seems social issues are the hot topic,” Nash said.

Balch said that while she’s seeing a similar volume of laws compared to previous years, they do seem to be getting earlier hearings.

In Texas, for example, Republican Gov. Rick Perry designated as an “emergency” measure a bill that would require women seeking an abortion to first get an ultrasound. She could choose not to view it, but in most cases she would have to listen to a verbal description of the image.

A Texas Senate panel passed the bill Wednesday, and it now moves to the full Senate. The emergency designation puts the bill on a fast track.

Similar measures have passed out of the Texas Senate before but died in the House. This year, the House has a larger Republican majority.

Opponents say that measure interferes with the doctor-patient relationship and would be heartbreaking for women already in a difficult situation.

Lance Kinzer, a Republican Kansas state representative who introduced a 20-week abortion ban this week, said he sees no problem in debating abortion curbs while working on the budget. He noted that the legislature has supported abortion curbs in the past which were vetoed by Democratic governors.

But with new Republican Gov. Sam Brownback, Kansas conservatives see “an opportunity,” Kinzer said.

Not all anti-abortion advocates agree on strategy. Ohio Right to Life Executive Director Mike Gonidakis sees proposals like the “heartbeat bill” as vulnerable to being overturned by the courts, whereas a proposed 20-week bill is more likely to stick.

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