August 2, 2013

GOP in key states tries to slow anti-abortion push

They say they are worried about alienating women and young people, who disproportionately favor abortion rights.

By Thomas Beaumont / The Associated Press

MILWAUKEE — Abortion is still legal but getting one in many states will be difficult if laws passed this year are upheld by the courts. In a march through conservative legislatures, anti-abortion Republicans passed a wave of new restrictions that would sharply limit when a woman could terminate a pregnancy and where she could go to do so.

click image to enlarge

Speaker of the House Jase Bolger, a Republican, listens as Michigan Republican Gov. Rick Snyder delivers an address in Lansing, Mich. Bolger blocked one tough abortion bill this year and Snyder vetoed another last year, which opponents are now trying to circumvent with a ballot initiative.

AP

The push brought the anti-abortion movement closer to a key milestone, in which the procedure would become largely inaccessible in the three-fifths of the country controlled by Republicans even if still technically legal under Roe vs. Wade.

But rather than continuing to roll across the GOP heartland in synch with the pro-life movement's plan, the effort may now be hitting a wall. The obstacle comes not from opposing Democrats but from GOP leaders who believe pressing further is a mistake for a party trying to soften its harder edges after election losses last year.

The resisting Republicans include governors and top legislators in more than a half-dozen states, including some of the largest and most politically competitive in the party's 30-state coalition. They are digging in to stop the barrage of abortion proposals, hoping to better cultivate voters not enamored with the GOP's social agenda.

"It's a huge mistake if your ear is not in tune where people are," said Republican state Sen. Dale Schultz in Wisconsin, who is trying to fend off more abortion legislation in the state's GOP-controlled legislature, even though he says he personally supports it. "And we were pushing people too fast. All we're going to do is panic people and this is going to blow up if we don't begin to moderate on some of this stuff."

The Ohio Senate president, Republican Tom Neihaus, blocked a bill in November that would have banned abortions as early as six weeks into pregnancy.

"I just didn't think it was appropriate," said Niehaus, a supporter of earlier anti-abortion measures. "It's a distraction from our primary focus of getting the economy back on track."

But anti-abortion leaders say they are determined to push on into more Republican strongholds, taking advantage of the party's majority status.

"It is definitely the case that the future for us lies beyond what is considered your traditional pro-life states," said Dan McConchie, vice president of Americans United for Life, which circulates model legislation to state lawmakers.

The dissension, strongest in the Midwest and southern border states, is flaring as the GOP prepares for competitive races in the contested regions next year. The anti-abortion movement is poised to press for constitutional amendments giving legal rights to fetuses, bans on abortions based on gender, and an end to abortion exceptions for victims of rape and incest.

Anti-abortion Republicans have gotten more than 170 new abortion laws passed in 30 states since the party won control of a majority of statehouses in 2010. This year's push was highlighted by some of the strongest restrictions yet passed in North Dakota, Arkansas and Texas.

The key measures banned abortions after approximately six weeks, 12 weeks or 20 weeks, depending on the state; required women to see the fetus on an ultrasound; required doctors to have hospital admitting privileges; and required clinics to have full hospital-type facilities. More than a dozen GOP states in the South and West adopted all or most of the package.

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