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Access to Abortion Pared at State Level

Last year, "there was an attempt to engage in a full-frontal assault of Roe versus Wade " with an outright ban, said Brock L. Greenfield, a state senator who is director of South Dakota Right to Life. But similar bills have been found unconstitutional, and Gov. Mike Rounds (R) vetoed the bill on technical grounds.

"This year, the pro-life forces united in order to pass some legislation," Greenfield said. The other measures include stricter parental notification requirements and a provision adding an "unborn child" as a distinct victim to the state's criminal code for charges of murder in the first and second degree. In its new informed-consent law, South Dakota requires physicians to tell women seeking an abortion about the "existing relationship between a pregnant woman and her unborn child," and that all abortions "terminate the life of a whole, separate, unique living human being."

The language in that law was written with the expectation it could be used to "help tear down the wall put up by the Roe versus Wade decision," Greenfield said.

For the small and dwindling number of physicians providing abortions, it has been frustrating to encounter new regulations dictating non-medical requirements such as the width of doorways and the size of hallways, said Steven Emmert, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers.

"Those opposed to abortion are finding new and different ways to increase the roadblocks and the hoops [that] providers and patients have to jump through," Emmert said.

Missouri, for example, has set aside $1 million to encourage low-income pregnant women to carry a pregnancy to full term and potentially give the infant up for adoption.

"A theme we're seeing this session is for legislatures to go back and put on more restrictions," said Katherine Grainger, legislative counsel at the Center for Reproductive Rights. "They passed all these laws, and now they're saying, 'Let's see what else we can get.' "

Lawmakers in several states toughened existing laws affecting girls younger than 18 who seek an abortion. Today, 35 states require parental involvement of some type, according to a tally by Stateline.org, an online public policy journal funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

In its end-of-the-session newsletter, Texas Right to Life hinted at the variety of approaches its side pursued.

Supporters "did not muster the strength to pass any of the multiple freestanding pro-life bills," it noted. However, "several major pro-life victories came in the form of 'under the radar' amendments." Those included measures to shift state money to abortion alternatives and health care for unborn children, stricter parental consent requirements and a ban on third-trimester abortions "when the abortion is not necessary to prevent the death of the woman."

Some antiabortion leaders in President Bush's home state attribute their victories to a shift in the political winds.

"Texas, having gone from Democrat to Republican control, makes it much more possible to get into these issues," said state Rep. Will Hartnett (R-Dallas), who sponsored two successful amendments. "Under the Democrats, these died in committee."

Hartnett, who pushed to change the law from requiring parental notification to requiring parental consent, said the earlier language simply "paid lip service" to protecting minors from an unwise decision.

But Emmert, who represents abortion providers, said that in many circumstances, the girl has been impregnated by a male relative or boyfriend of her mother, making parental consent complicated, if not impossible.

Even in some of the 12 states that have state constitutional protections for abortion rights, legislatures have enacted new restrictions, according to the Center for Reproductive Rights. (The 12 are Alaska, California, Florida, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Montana, New Jersey, New Mexico, Tennessee and West Virginia.)

Not all the restrictive measures came from Republican-controlled states. Democratic governors in Kansas and Pennsylvania signed budgets that steer millions of dollars to organizations that provide alternatives to abortion. And in Oklahoma, Democratic Gov. Brad Henry signed a law in May that requires parental notification for minors, deems a fetus a "victim" under assault laws and mandates that abortion providers give specific counseling relating to the developmental stage of a fetus and a list of groups that support women who choose to carry a pregnancy to full term.

California, once deemed a liberal bastion, will consider a ballot question in November proposing to require, for the first time, that most women younger than 18 notify a parent before getting an abortion and to require physicians to report all such abortions.


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