At least 11 states have passed laws this year regulating or restricting abortion, giving opponents of abortion what partisans on both sides of the issue say is an unusually high number of victories. In four additional states, bills have passed at least one house of the legislature.
In a flurry of activity last week, Gov. Haley Barbour of Mississippi signed a bill barring insurers from covering abortion in the new insurance exchanges called for under the federal health care overhaul, and the Oklahoma Legislature overrode a veto by Gov. Brad Henry of a bill requiring doctors who perform abortions to answer 38 questions about each procedure, including the women’s reasons for ending their pregnancies.
It was the third abortion measure this session on which the Legislature overrode a veto by Henry.
At least 13 other states have introduced or passed similar legislation this year. The new laws range from an Arizona ban on coverage of abortion in the state employees’ health plan to a ban in Nebraska on all abortions after 20 weeks, on the grounds that the fetus at that stage can feel pain.
Fetal pain is a subject of debate in the medical community, and the U.S. Supreme Court has recognized the government’s right to ban abortions only after a fetus becomes viable, which is more than a month later.
“The right-to-life folks are seeing just how far they can push things,” said Joseph W. Dellapenna, a law professor at Villanova University and the author of “Dispelling the Myths of Abortion History.”
Dellapenna said it was “almost a certainty” that one of the laws would end up in front of the Supreme Court, where Justice Sonia Sotomayor’s views on abortion are untested, as are those of Elena Kagan, President Barack Obama’s new court nominee.
“It could turn out they can push things a lot farther than people think,” he said. “Or, it could not.”
While opponents of abortion rights hope ultimately to overturn Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that guarantees a woman’s right to an abortion, they have made the most impact at the state level, where laws passed in one state often appear in other legislatures in subsequent years. State laws also have the potential for national consequences by setting off court battles that challenge or limit the scope of Roe.
“Ninety percent of pro-life legislation happens at the states,” said Daniel S. McConchie, vice president for government affairs at Americans United for Life, which opposes abortion.