Roe v. Wade at 39: A ‘breathtaking’ year for abortion restrictions
Today is the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion. Charmaine Yoest is the president of Americans United for Life, the country’s oldest antiabortion organization, formed shortly before the Roe decision. The group frequently works with state legislators, writing model abortion restrictions that get adapted and passed across the country, and saw a particularly successful year in 2011. Americans United for Life was involved with 28 laws that passed last year, including ones that bar insurers from covering abortion and others that defund abortion providers. Yoest and I spoke earlier this week about today’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade, how abortion rights changed in the past year, and what she sees happening in 2012. What follows is a transcript, lightly edited for content and length.
Sarah Kliff: There seems to be pretty widespread agreement that a lot changed on abortion rights and restrictions in 2011, with states passing a record number of laws on this issue. How did this happen?
Charmaine Yoest: The most obvious thing was the 2010 election. While the headlines were all about the changing command in the House of Representatives, what we were seeing was a tidal wave of new pro-life legislators in state houses. When we saw this big wave come in, we were ready to grab the ball and run with it. Last year, 28 laws that we were involved with passed. It was breathtaking.
SK: What kind of abortion restrictions saw the most success last year?
CY: There are probably two big ones. The first one, which isn’t that surprising, was a lot of interest in making sure that the new health care law didn’t cover abortion, and addressing insurance coverage. We released a model related to that the day after Congress passed the law [to bar insurance companies from covering abortions]. We saw action in Florida, Idaho, Nebraska and other states on that.
Another big one is an increased interest in federal and state funding that the abortion industry as a whole receives. We try to write our legislation in a way that targets the industry. So we’ve seen a much higher awareness of that, like the million dollars that goes to Planned Parenthood each year from the federal government, and states are attempting to target that as well..
SK: Funding for abortion providers definitely became a key battle both here in Washington, as well as in the states. But the White House pretty much said the issue was a non-negotiable for them. So will that be an issue that abortion-rights opponents keep pushing on? Or does it look like a dead end?
CY: With the March for Life coming up on Monday, you will see a lot of our signs have defund Planned Parenthood on one side. That’s meant to be a reminder.
Also, with the Planned Parenthood funding getting attention here in Washington, you see it trickling down to the state level. You can’t under emphasize the importance of political pressure. We’ll be calling for more Congressional hearings and looking at the funding issue, both at the federal and state level.
SK: What’s at stake for your movement, and for Roe v. Wade, in the upcoming election?
CY: This election is critical. There’s no hedging that. With this next presidency, the appointment power is going to make all the difference in the world in how they look at the jurisprudence of Roe. We look at that, definitely, but even if we don’t end up with a court that restores sanity on the issue, we’ll continue to work on state-based legislation. We continue to make progress there too, passing constitutionally sound legislation.
SK: What do you mean by constitutionality sound? Legislation that fits within the bounds of Roe? Or something else?
CY: If you’re a legislator and you want to use some of your political capital, you want to win. As a movement you want to put your best legal argument. We know these laws will be challenged. That’s why we felt very good about the sonogram bill we passed in Texas [which requires a woman to see a sonogram prior to an abortion, and was recently upheld by an appellate court]. In order to be constitutionally-sound, you have to compromise a bit. We stayed within the lines, and the Fifth Circuit gave us a decision we feel very good about. That’s what I mean about having constitutionally-sound legislation.