By Jonathon Van Maren
As I’ve noted in several columns this year, pro-life activists and legislators have been relentlessly pushing abortion restrictions right across America, hollowing out Roe v. Wade bit by bit. This strategy of incrementalism, which ground out hundreds of laws even during the Obama era, has resulted in a scenario where, as Politico reported recently, “abortion opponents are winning”—“even if Roe is upheld.” Abortion rates are dropping, and pro-life activists have successfully made abortion difficult to get in many areas of the country:
Abortion is still legal in the United States, but for women in vast swaths of the country it’s a right in name only. Six states are down to only one abortion clinic; a court stepped in Friday to stop Missouri’s sole clinic from closing, at least for now. Some women seeking abortions have to travel long distances, and face mandatory waiting periods or examinations. On top of that, a new wave of restrictive laws, or outright bans, is rippling across GOP-led states like Alabama and Georgia.
Both sides of the abortion battle are focused on the future of Roe v. Wade, but opponents have already won the ground game over the past decade, chipping away at abortion access…Years of piecemeal state laws have left their mark. Mandatory waiting periods, travel, missed work and lost wages all make getting an abortion more expensive and more difficult, particularly for low-income women. Doctors and clinic staff have to face protesters, threats, proliferating regulations and draining legal challenges; clinics have closed. In remote parts of the midwest and south, women may have to travel more than 300 miles to end a pregnancy.
As Troy Newman of Operation Rescue told me recently on my podcast, the majority of America’s abortion clinics have been shut down since the early 1990s, and one by one, pro-life activists are working to close the rest of them, too. More:
Data from the Guttmacher Institute, a research organization that supports abortion rights, shows that 788 clinics in the U.S. provided abortion services in 2014 — a drop of 51 clinics over three years. Since 2013 about 20 clinics have closed just in Texas. Further, one in five women would have to travel at least 43 miles to get to a clinic, according to a Guttmacher analysis from October 2017. In North Dakota, South Dakota and Wyoming, at least half of the women between 15 and 44 years old lived more than 90 miles from a clinic…
Six states — Kentucky, Missouri, Mississippi, North Dakota, South Dakota and West Virginia — have only one clinic left that performs abortions, according to a recent analysis from Planned Parenthood and Guttmacher. Missouri’s was on the brink of closure at midnight Friday; a court delayed that and will hold another hearing on its status next week. Lawmakers in many of those states have pursued limits in when abortion can be allowed — such as fetal heartbeat laws or 15-week bans, though the laws have been blocked in court. Four of those states have also passed so-called trigger laws that would ban abortion immediately should the Supreme Court overturn Roe.
As Politico pointed out, these laws have been enormously successful in ensuring that abortions are more and more difficult to obtain:
The ramifications of the anti-abortion movement’s sustained assault against Planned Parenthood are perhaps no clearer than in Texas, where lawmakers have passed dozens of restrictive laws, including mandatory ultrasounds, waiting periods and state funding restrictions.
The Supreme Court overturned another set of Texas restrictions in 2016 — but not before about 20 clinics shut down, many of which were never able to reopen. Providers retired, staff found other jobs and clinics had to start from scratch to get licensed and staff up. “All of those things take time and a significant amount of money,” said Kari White, an associate professor in Health Care Organization and Policy at the University of Alabama at Birmingham and an investigator with the Texas Policy Evaluation Project.
Even though Texas permits abortions until 20 weeks — itself a cut-off point that conflicts with Roe v. Wade, although it hasn’t yet come to the Supreme Court — abortion access has sharply declined. That scenario is likely to play out in other conservative states, even if they don’t go as far as Georgia or Alabama. More than half of Texas’ 41 abortion clinics closed or stopped performing abortions after the state passed legislation, TX HB2 (132), in 2013 that bundled several onerous restrictions, according to research from the Texas Policy Evaluation Project. The average distance a woman had to travel one way for an abortion jumped to 35 miles from 15 miles. In rural parts of the state, drives of 100 miles or more to access care are not uncommon, according to the group.
Despite the heavy losses social conservatives have sustained in the culture wars of the past several decades, it is encouraging to note that on the abortion front, pro-life activists have been winning by every objective standard. It is true that Roe still stands, although increasingly hollow (and Chief Justice Roberts could choose to cripple Roe rather than overturn the 1973 ruling completely), but the hard work of passing laws and saving laws has gone on unabated. Over forty years since the Supreme Court imposed legal abortion on all fifty states, the pro-life movement has grown, and abortion activists are facing a knock-down, drag-out fight everywhere they turn.
It’s no wonder elderly pro-choice protestors show up at pro-life rallies with signs reading “I can’t believe I still have to protest this s***.” It’s because they really can’t believe it.
For anyone interested, my book on The Culture War, which analyzes the journey our culture has taken from the way it was to the way it is and examines the Sexual Revolution, hook-up culture, the rise of the porn plague, abortion, commodity culture, euthanasia, and the gay rights movement, is available for sale here.