Yes, Democrats managed to rescue federal funding for Title X and Planned Parenthood in the last minute budget deal that averted a government shutdown. Even though the law bans federal funds for abortion, the conservatives’ ultimate goal was to make abortion less available by shutting down clinics that also provide other reproductive health services — and Dems blocked it.
But the untold story here is that the right’s anti-abortion drive continues unabated on the level of the states.
With a conservative dominated Supreme Court, states can do what they want without having to worry about restrictive abortion laws being overturned. And as Dahlia Lithwick reminds us, conservatives are largely winning their battle to erect so many legal barriers to abortion that women may someday retain the right to terminate a pregnancy in name only:
Since the start of this year, 916 measures seeking to regulate reproductive health have been introduced in 49 states. According to the Guttmacher Institute, by the end of March, 15 laws had been enacted in seven states. These laws include an expansion of the waiting period in South Dakota from 24 to 72 hours and a requirement that counseling from “crisis pregnancy centers” include scientifically flawed data on risk factors. There are new regulations in Utah and Virginia governing abortion clinics. Legislation has been introduced in 13 states requiring that women have an ultrasound procedure before having an abortion—and in seven of those states, the woman must view the fetus and listen to a detailed verbal description as well. Measures have been introduced in 17 states copying a Nebraska law banning abortion at 20 weeks, on the theory—again based on questionable medical data—that this is when a fetus can feel pain.
Exacerbating this dynamic, pro-abortion forces face a built-in political problem when they defend Title X and Planned Parenthood. In order to justify their federal funding they have to reiterate that abortion is really a small part of what they do. But in doing so, they inadvertently reinforce the perception that the fact that they provide women with the ability to terminate a pregnancy if they so choose is something to be ashamed of. That naturally advantages Republican opponents, since pro-choice supporters can’t defend the right to choose on its own terms.
Meanwhile, the drive to restrict abortion on the state level continues apace. The Washington Post ran a great piece yesterday on Planned Parenthood in Montana that touches on the ultimate impact of these kinds of state-level restrictions conservatives are winning, which force women to drive hundreds of miles and even from neighboring states just to obtain a procedure that is supposed to be legal in the United States:
Because the state is so large, some Planned Parenthood clients drive hours to get to one of its clinics. Recently, the only pharmacist in Broadus, a remote town in southeastern Montana, stopped selling birth control pills for religious reasons. Women there must now obtain them through the mail or drive more than 150 miles round trip to Planned Parenthood.
Montana has less restrictive laws on abortion than some of its neighbors, so women and girls sometimes travel from North Dakota and Wyoming to terminate pregnancies
This is also one of the lesser remarked upon results of the Republican wave in the 2010 midterms. Political journalists in Washington have been understandably focused on the way the GOP majority in the House has tried to restrict funds for family planning or tax health plans that provide abortion. But despite all the focus on Planned Parenthood and Title X in the budget fight, the 2012 Republican takeover of state legislatures may ultimately have more of an impact on women’s ability to have an abortion than anything the Republican majority in Congress are able to pass. And it’s all passing under the Beltway radar.