By Kimberly Schupp - email
WASHINGTON (RNN) - A Georgia lawmaker isn't content with making it a crime to have an abortion. He wants to make it a felony punishable by death.
Georgia legislator Bobby Franklin's bill – which labels all abortions as "prenatal murder" – is one of almost 800 bills addressing reproductive health which have been introduced into state legislatures across the U.S. since January.
Fifty-five percent of those bills aim to limit access to abortion through parental notification laws, consent requirements, counseling and waiting periods and limitations on public funding.
The debate between pro-life and pro-choice has always been heated. However, these new bills use what many feel are increasingly extreme measures to circumvent Roe v. Wade, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in the United Sates.
Earlier this month, 6,000 people rallied in New York to protest a proposed cut in funding to Planned Parenthood, the organization that provides preventive care, sex education and abortion services to mostly poor and minority mothers.
C. Nicole Mason, executive director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University, said she was not surprised the amendment passed the U.S. House of Representatives and is now on its way to the Senate.
"There is a clear agenda coming out of the House," Mason told New American Media. "It's very conservative and it's an agenda that is not in line with the president's agenda and the priorities of a lot of American working people."
Roe v Wade: A legacy
The landmark decision held that a woman's right to privacy included her right to decide whether she would terminate or continue a pregnancy. Before the decision, the practice of abortion was criminal. Roe v Wade made it legal for a woman to choose to terminate her pregnancy in the earlier months without restrictions, and with restrictions in later months.
The Supreme Court allowed exceptions to save a woman's life, as well as to protect her mental or physical health. States were given the right to limit abortions at any time after that.
The decision resulted in battle lines being drawn, pro-life and pro-choice advocates engaging in a long struggle and attempts through the legislative and judicial branches to limit the practice.
Alexa Kolbi-Molinas, a staff attorney for the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Freedom Project, said any new efforts to curtail abortion rights should push women to stand up and defend their right to choose.
"The bills that we are seeing now are extremely callous, and we're giving the government power over every woman's pregnancy," Kolbi-Molinas said. "Many people, no matter what you call yourself, are shocked by a number of these bills and women and family need to make their own decisions, we need to stop lawmakers from interfering."
But that's not quite how Corrina Gura, with the Pro-Life Action League, sees it. She said her organization is a fan of any new law that is fair and reasonable and common-sense filled – not extremist.
"But they should be across the aisle and bi-partisan," Gura said. "There has to be balance, and pro-lifers are always accused of missing that."
States attempt to limit abortion rights
Franklin's bill has been much derided in the media for bringing miscarriage into the debate. In his bill, all abortions would be considered murder based on the presumption that life begins at conception. Anyone convicted of the murder would be eligible for the death penalty or life behind bars.
The definition of "prenatal murder" excludes miscarriage "so long as there is no human involvement whatsoever" in causing them. This introduces the uncomfortable prospect of having to determine the cause of a miscarriage.
Authorities would be required to investigate the cause of a fetal death when it does not occur at a medical facility. It would also require a fetal death certificate to be issued.
According to the March of Dimes, as many as 40 percent of all pregnancies end in a naturally occurring miscarriage, often before the woman even realizes she is pregnant. It is not always clear what causes a miscarriage, and the bill does not clarify what "human involvement" is or how it would be enforced.
The bill has since died.
In one of the more extreme examples of states attempting to limit access to abortions, South Dakota legislators introduced a bill that would have allowed the pregnant woman to use the "justifiable homicide" defense if she killed the abortion provider in order to prevent harm to her fetus.
The legislators have since backed off the measure, but a similar bill came up in Nebraska (LB 232).
Unlike the South Dakota bill, Republican Sen. Mark Christensen's bill would apply to anyone who killed an abortion provider, not just the pregnant woman.
"LB 232 is really nothing more than an attempt to make sure a pregnant woman is not unnecessarily charged with a crime for using force to protect her unborn child from someone who meant to bring harm to her unborn children," Christensen said.
Ohio legislators introduced the "heartbeat bill," which would ban abortions once there is evidence of a fetal heartbeat, although according to doctors, that doesn't occur in a set timeframe.
"I believe this is a bill that will be the standard for the pro-life movement," Janet Folder Porter, who introduced the bill, told Toledo, OH, television station WTOL.
Kolbi-Molinas said to her, these bills are nothing new.
"When you see measures like this, clearly people are feeling empowered," Kolbi-Molinas said. "This is nothing new, but this escalation is really shocking."
Congress gets into the act
It's not just the states that are attempting to restrict access to abortion services. Several bills have been introduced in Congress that seek to limit tax breaks, funding, insurance coverage and access to services by allowing hospitals that receive federal funding to turn away women seeking abortions - even in emergencies.
One bill, introduced by Rep. Christopher Smith, R-NJ, would allow federal funding for abortions in cases of "forcible" rape, but not statutory rape, coerced rape or incest.
Smith's office has not yet defined what "forcible rape" means.
"For decades, a patchwork of short-term policies has prevented abortion funding in many programs authorized by Congress, but it's time for a single, government-wide permanent protection against taxpayer funding for elective abortion," Smith said in a press release after the bill was approved. "Abortion is lethal violence against children and exploitation of women. This legislation would establish a comprehensive policy prohibiting public funding for elective abortion in all federal programs."
Among other measures proposed in Congress:
"Over the years we have seen a chipping away in states and government trying to cut away from women and their reproductive health," Kolbi-Molinas said. "This year, both federal and states are trying to block women's access to health needs. It's as if they're making one general rule for women's pregnancies regardless of their circumstances."
Lipinski said if a health bill came before him that failed to prevent federal funding of abortions, he would vote against it.
"Protecting the sanctity of life is a matter of principle for me and tens of millions of Americans," he said.
Planned Parenthood takes the hit
The organization is one of the largest outlets for low-income women to receive family planning counseling, screening for sexually transmitted diseases, diabetes and cancer screenings and care. It does not receive tax-payer money for abortions, but does fund its own abortion services.
Its hundreds of health centers have played an increasingly significant role in low-income women's health care, generally, and in their reproductive health specifically.
In a press release about the passage of the bill that would eliminate its federal funding, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards said it was an outrageous assault to those who rely on the organization for care.
"In attacking Planned Parenthood, the House Republican leadership has launched an outrageous assault on the millions of Americans who rely on Planned Parenthood for primary and preventive health care, including lifesaving breast and cervical cancer screenings, annual exams, family planning visits, birth control, HIV testing, and more," Richards said.
Others were similarly not afraid to speak out about their feelings, negative or positive, about what this law could do for Americans.
"Twenty-seven percent of all abortions are done at a Planned Parenthood, so they're a profit-making enterprise," Gura said. "It's not the best place for our money to be helping people."
U.S. Rep. Mike Pence, R-IN, has 154 co-sponsors for the bill preventing federal funding to the organization as well every clinic that provides abortions.
"Ending an innocent human life is morally wrong and so is taking the tax dollars of millions of pro-life Americans and using them to fund abortion," Pence said. "I commend the House Judiciary Committee for eliminating taxpayer funding of abortion through a variety of means by passing the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act."
California Sen. Barbara Boxer said these measures are "extreme," and they "break the faith" of bi-partisan compromise.
"And it risks the health and lives of women," she said.
Some pro-life advocates, like Gura, concede that some of the more extreme measures used to restrict access to abortion services may do more harm than good. Part of the problem is the way we treat pregnancy, she said, as if it were a disease.
"It's a natural part of being a woman, a blessing and a gift. Abortion is backward, being able to be a mother and a child bearer, that should be a right," she said.
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