Should women who seek abortions be required to hear about possible fetal pain?
Should it be a crime for adults to take minors across state lines to end pregnancies?
U.S. abortion foes say yes to both questions as they push new laws to what they see as a receptive Republican-led Congress and a sympathetic president.
Abortion rights activists, by contrast, see the current White House as hostile to women’s ability to decide when or if to have children.
President Bush’s sympathies were on display on Monday, as he addressed abortion opponents who marched to mark the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Jan. 22, 1973, Roe vs. Wade ruling legalizing abortion.
“The America of our dreams, where every child is welcomed … in life and protected in law may still be some ways away,” Bush said in a telephone address to the anti-abortion March for Life. “… I’ve been working with members of the Congress to pass good, solid legislation that protects the vulnerable and promotes the culture of life.”
Anti-abortion demonstrators held up signs reading “Thank You President Bush” during the rally.
Bush noted in his call that he signed into law a ban on a certain pregnancy termination procedure known to its critics as partial-birth abortion. He added that he had also signed a law that lets prosecutors “charge those who harm or kill a pregnant woman with harming or killing her unborn child.”
The passage of both of these laws, in one case by a single vote in the U.S. Senate, was seen as a triumph for the National Right to Life Committee, one of the most influential anti-abortion pressure groups.
“We’re hopeful, but it’s a guarded optimism,” said Douglas Johnson, the committee’s legislative director, speaking about the prospects for more measures that limit the reach of the Roe vs. Wade decision.
These include one bill that would require abortion providers to give information about possible fetal pain to prospective patients whose pregnancies are at 20 weeks or more, and to get a signed form accepting or rejecting pain-killing drugs for the fetus.
The question of when or if fetuses feel pain has not been settled.
Another measure would make it a federal crime to take a minor across state lines to have an abortion without notifying the minor’s parents beforehand.
This bill’s sponsors call it the Child Custody Protection Act. In the escalating war of rhetoric that has characterized the abortion issue, abortion rights proponent Gloria Feldt calls it the Put Grandmother in Jail Act.
“We’re not just sitting back and waiting for bad bills to hit us,” said Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “We are aggressively pursuing important pro-choice pro-family legislation as well … I anticipate there will be many anti-choice measures, but our focus is on prevention.”
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, which favors abortion rights, said on the group’s Web site: “With President Bush’s re-election, the prospect is very real that a Supreme Court bolstered with two or more new right-wing justices could overturn Roe vs. Wade by the end of this decade.”
However, Johnson said he knew nothing about any measures on the horizon aimed at overturning the landmark high court ruling.
The current Supreme Court is believed to favor upholding Roe vs. Wade by a six-to-three vote. That margin would presumably stay constant in the event that ailing Chief Justice William Rehnquist is replaced during Bush’s term with another justice who, like Rehnquist, opposes Roe.
U.S. public opinion on abortion rights has stayed remarkably stable since the Roe ruling, according to Karlyn Bowman of the American Enterprise Institute, who has monitored polling on this issue.
In the earliest polls following the ruling, Bowman said, a solid majority of respondents, 54 percent, said abortion should be legal under certain circumstances; 21 percent said it should be legal under any circumstance and 19 percent said it should be illegal in all circumstances.
In a 2004 poll, she said, 55 percent said abortion should be legal in certain circumstances; 24 percent said it should be legal in any case and 19 percent said it should be banned.