July 31, 2013

The new legal battlefield over abortion

Texas Capitol Abortion Rights Protest/Rally, July 1, 2013.  Credit: Flickr Vision
Texas Capitol Abortion Rights Protest/Rally, July 1, 2013. Credit: Flickr Vision

Americans’ views on abortion have remained relatively steady in recent years. But 40 years after Roe v. Wade, the legal battles over abortion are far from over. In fact, there has been a substantial amount of activity at the state level, particularly in parts of the Southern and Midwestern U.S., where, according to a July Pew Research Center poll, there is greater opposition to abortion rights among the general public.

In 2013 alone, state legislatures have enacted more than 40 new provisions aimed at restricting abortion access, according to the Guttmacher Institute. For instance, seven states this year – including North Carolina this week – have enacted laws imposing new medical requirements on abortion clinics. But while abortion opponents have been winning legislative battles, abortion-rights supporters have been pushing back, with some success, in court.

This year, abortion-rights groups have responded to new state laws with lawsuits challenging the new restrictions. In many cases, judges have issued injunctions against or struck down the new statutes. In North Dakota, for instance, a federal judge issued an injunction against a recently enacted law that would have prohibited most abortions after a fetal heartbeat could be detected (as early as six weeks).  And in Wisconsin, a federal court issued an injunction against a new state law that would have required doctors working in abortion clinics to have admitting privileges at a local hospital. Another admitting-privileges requirement enacted in Alabama recently was halted by a federal judge.

The next big legal battle could be in Texas, where Republican Gov. Rick Perry recently signed a new law banning most abortions after 20 weeks and imposing new medical requirements on abortion clinics that may cause many of them to close. Another potential battleground is North Carolina, where Republican Gov. Pat McCrory on Monday signed into law a measure that also imposes new requirements on clinics. Abortion-rights advocates have said they are considering bringing legal action against both new laws.


But while legal battles in Texas and North Carolina likely would garner a lot of attention, state-level lawsuits could soon be overshadowed by the U.S. Supreme Court. In June, the high court indicated it might review a 2012 Supreme Court of Oklahoma decision that struck down a law restricting the use of abortion-inducing drugs. The justices have asked Oklahoma’s highest court for more information and, once they receive answers to their questions, they will decide whether to take the case, Cline v. Oklahoma Coalition for Reproductive Justice. If the U.S. Supreme Court does end up taking the Cline case (probably in 2014), it would be the high court’s first major abortion ruling since 2007, when it upheld a federal ban on partial-birth abortion.

Just over half of Americans (54% in a July 2013 Pew Research poll) support keeping abortion legal in all or most cases. And nearly two-thirds oppose overturning Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court decision guaranteeing a right to abortion at least during the first three months of pregnancy, according to a January 2013 Pew Research poll.

At the same time, most Americans are less supportive of legalized abortion later in pregnancy. A December 2012 USA Today/Gallup survey found that majorities say that abortion should be illegal during the second (64%) and third (80%) trimesters of pregnancy.

Topics: Abortion

  1. Photo of David Masci

    is a senior writer/editor focusing on religion at Pew Research Center.


  1. WarrinaBuffetina24 years ago

    It would have been VERY interesting to see this poll regarding personal opinions on abortion broken down by the AGE of the respondents. I’ll make a GUESS that people of reproductive age want REPRODUCTIVE FREEDOM, and that a majority of those AGAINST maintaining Roe vs. Wade are older than forty.

    The ‘secret problem’ here is that this abortion battle is a major TOOL being used by the Democrats to keep younger people from voting Republican. Younger voters are scared they will lose this right to an abortion if they support the Republicans.

    We know the media can confuse people on purpose. Romney was the ONLY Republican primary candidate who did NOT want to destroy Roe vs. Wade, but the media would not let that message get across to the voters.

  2. Yassin4 years ago

    Abortion is murder. Once the DNA from a sperm combines with the DNA from an egg, a new cell is created that has different DNA than the mother or father. So although this new developing human being is inside of a woman, it is not as abortion advocates maintain just part of her body, because it does not have the same DNA. There are four main differences between the born and unborn, yet none of them change whether or not a person is a human being. The acronym is SLED 1) Size – a zygote may be smaller than us, but size does not determine if someone is human or not…otherwise short people and children are less human. 2) Level of Development – zygotes have just started developing, but if development determines who is human and who is noy then again infants, children, and those with disabilities cannot be considered fully human. 3) Environment – the zygote is inside of a woman, but location does not make one less human. When I leave my house to go to school I do not become less human. And furthermore, how does traveling eight inches down a birth canal suddenly change the newborn from nonhuman to human all of a sudden anyways? 4) Dependency – the zygote is dependent upon its mother, but dependency does not make one less human…otherwise the sick, elderly, children, disabled and all others who cannot care for themselves are not human.

    1. Gray4 years ago

      Six in 10 American women having an abortion already have a child, and more than three in 10 already have two or more children. Women and men making this decision are considering the economic toll on their family aside from the moral aspects. Beyond that if every pregnancy in the world was brought to full term how we would cope with the environmental problems? While not advocating for China’s One Child Policy, one hopes that eventually this quandary will be dealt with by more effective birth control measures.

    2. Paul4 years ago

      Yassin apparently considers embryos to have the same rights as you and me. Howver, 60% or more of fertilized eggs never implant. (bioethics.georgetown.edu/pcbe/tr…) These embryos are flushed away during menstruation unnoticed. Shall we get the police out inspecting menstrual flows and issuing murder warrants. And let’s criminalize any woman who suffers a miscarriage.
      No let’s not. The fact is you have to draw a line somewhere on when an embryo/zygote/fetus is protected by law, and when it isn’t. The Roe v. Wade decision drew this line, and it is a sensible one.

      1. John Kolb3 years ago

        it’s not about embryos that do not implant .. a women is not pregnant in those cases as there is no fetal/maternal signal to indicate such; that argument is a red herring. Roe looked at viability, which is now <20 weeks … a limit which is supported by a majority of women.