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Pro-life gains made in state-by-state abortion battle


NASHVILLE (BP) – The state-by-state battle to protect preborn children and their mothers has continued in the first full legislative year after the U.S. Supreme Court overturned a decision that prevented abortion bans for nearly half a century.

Iowa became the latest of seven states to enact prohibitions in 2023 when Gov. Kim Reynolds signed the Fetal Heartbeat Act July 14. As a result, half of the 50 states now have what Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of Susan B. Anthony Pro-life America, described as “strong pro-life protections on the books.”

More than 10 other states, however, have acted this year to protect or expand access to abortion.

The conflicting actions regarding abortion policy across the country have occurred as a result of the Supreme Court’s opinion in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization in June 2022. The justices reversed the court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade opinion, which struck down state restrictions and legalized the lethal procedure nationwide. The high court’s ruling freed states to regulate abortion again.

In anticipation of the decision, some states had enacted “trigger bans” before last June that went into effect after the high court’s ruling. Legislatures in other states have approved abortion bans since the decision, including those that have acted in the first full year post-Roe. Legal challenges have been mounted to some of those laws, and courts have blocked enforcement of some while the cases proceed.

“We have long said that the historic Dobbs decision would mark a new beginning for the pro-life chapter,” said Brent Leatherwood, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission (ERLC). “Not only did it end the Roe regime, it unleashed new opportunities for the cause of life to be advanced at the state level.

“Baptists, Christians and pro-life activists should rightly be heartened by efforts that include everything from complete bans on abortions, to new limits and restrictions placed on abortion, to support for mothers and families.”

Leatherwood told Baptist Press in written comments, “Of course, we must acknowledge that some states have tragically chosen to go in the opposite direction. Meeting the challenges presented by Planned Parenthood and other pro-abortion organizations in those areas must be a top priority for the ERLC and other ministries committed to protecting the most vulnerable among us.”

The ERLC and others also “must not back down from efforts at the federal level to not only continue ensuring that no taxpayer resources go to pay for or promulgate abortion, but also advocating for the constitutional right to life that is owed to every individual, born and preborn,” he said.

Iowa’s law, which was enjoined July 17 by a state judge, prohibits abortion when the heartbeat of the preborn child can be detected, which is typically at five or six weeks’ gestation.

Tim Lubinus, executive director/treasurer of the Baptist Convention of Iowa, described the state’s new abortion ban as “a remarkable display of solidarity” between the legislature and governor.

“Our lawmakers clearly communicated their unwavering commitment to protecting human life to the Iowa Supreme Court,” said Lubinus, who attended the signing ceremony for the new law.

The judge’s temporary block on enforcing the ban was a “disappointment to many Iowans,” he told BP in written remarks.

“Beyond the matter of the judge’s disregard for the will of the legislature and governor, the underlying concern that resonates deeply with the Christian community is the urgent necessity of safeguarding the lives of our most vulnerable, those created in the image of God,” Lubinus said.

“Regardless of the current state abortion law, we pray that pregnant women considering abortion will choose life, and we as a church commit ourselves to supporting and assisting them.”

Nine days before the Supreme Court’s Dobbs ruling in 2022, messengers to the Southern Baptist Convention continued a more-than-four-decade-old pattern of pro-life resolutions by urging the justices to overturn Roe and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision that affirmed it. The resolution also urged state legislators to pass “pro-life policies that uphold the dignity and value of every human life, including both vulnerable women and children.”

Other abortion bans enacted this year, according to the Guttmacher Institute:

  • Wyoming passed a ban on abortion throughout pregnancy.
  • Florida and South Carolina approved heartbeat bans.
  • Nebraska and North Carolina passed prohibitions on abortion at 12 weeks’ gestation.
  • Utah enacted a law that will close all abortion clinics when their licenses expire, essentially prohibiting the procedure throughout the state.

Among other pro-life laws enacted this year, 14 states have approved measures that encourage adoption or provide funding to pregnancy resource centers, alternatives to abortion programs or maternal health programs.

The Guttmacher Institute is a research and policy organization affiliated with the abortion rights movement. Its research has been relied upon by both pro-life and abortion-rights organizations through the years.

Abortion rights advocates have gained victories in about a dozen states in 2023. Among those, according to Guttmacher:

  • Eleven states and the District of Columbia have approved measures of various kinds that protect access to abortion. Those states are: Arizona; Connecticut; Maryland; Maine; Michigan; Minnesota; New Mexico; Nevada; New York; Vermont; Washington. Arizona’s action came by executive order from its governor.
  • Five states, as well as D.C., have acted to boost access to medical/chemical abortion: Connecticut; Massachusetts; New York; Vermont; Washington.
  • Five states have enacted laws that expand abortion coverage in Medicaid or private plans: Illinois; Maine; Rhode Island; Vermont; Washington.

The abortion bans enacted in 25 states are, according to Americans United for Life:

  • Prohibition from conception: Alabama; Arizona; Arkansas; Idaho; Indiana; Kentucky; Louisiana; Mississippi; Missouri; North Dakota; Oklahoma; South Dakota; Tennessee; Texas; Utah; West Virginia; Wisconsin; Wyoming. Court orders have blocked enforcement at least temporarily for the bans in Arizona, Indiana, Utah and Wyoming.
  • Prohibition when a heartbeat can be detected: Florida; Georgia; Iowa; Ohio; South Carolina.
  • Prohibition at 12 weeks’ gestation: Nebraska; North Carolina.

All these laws permit exceptions to their bans to protect the life of the mother, and several include various other exceptions, according to SBA Pro-life America.