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Abortion Ruling Sets New State Battle Lines

by Christine Vestal, Stateline.org Staff Writer

Prompted by the U.S. Supreme Court’s approval this month of a federal ban on a medical procedure known as partial-birth abortion, activists on both sides of the abortion battle are aiming their sights at state capitols, where new campaigns already are under way.

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Anti-abortion activists said that, in light of the new high court ruling, they plan to push legislatures in more than half the states to revive state bans on late-term abortion procedures that had been blocked by courts. Anti-abortion groups also see a chance to seek additional restrictions on abortion procedures late in pregnancy.

At the same time, abortion-rights groups are gearing up to push states and Congress to pass laws ensuring a woman’s right to abortion. The new laws — known as Freedom of Choice Acts — are designed to prevent further barriers to a woman’s right to abortion.

Last week, New York Gov. Eliot Spitzer (D) vowed to push for a Freedom of Choice Act. If approved, the Empire State would join seven others with laws enshrining a woman’s right to abortion as established by the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark 1973 decision, Roe v. Wade.

Since Roe v. Wade, anti-abortion groups have turned to state legislatures to chip away at a woman’s right to an abortion with a patchwork of restrictions, from parental consent to physician counseling and mandatory waiting periods. The latest high court ruling is the first to uphold an abortion restriction without requiring an exception to protect a woman’s health. It is also the first time the court has approved a ban on a specific medical procedure.

Legal experts on both sides of the debate agree the high court’s April 18 decision — Gonzalez v. Carhart — does not open the door for outright abortion bans. Instead, they say the decision leaves room for more limits on the procedure.

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