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Americans United for Life, one of the most powerful anti-abortion groups in the United States, wants you to know: Roe v. Wade is closer than ever to toppling.
“It’s more of a when than an if,” Katie Glenn, government affairs counsel for Americans United for Life, said of overturning Roe, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.
In its 2019 legislative report, released Thursday, Americans United for Life found that so far this year, 58 “life-affirming laws” have been passed in 22 states. That’s more than a 25% spike over 2018.
Around 40 abortion restriction-related cases are also currently making their way through the lower courts, and the majority-conservative Supreme Court will soon be forced to take one on, according to Glenn.
“Within the next three to five years, we see that as something that’s getting closer and closer to an inevitability. And state legislators see that too, and so they are sort of acting in accordance with that,” Glenn said.
About 570 anti-abortion measures were introduced in state legislatures in 2019, according to the report. Many were far less sweeping than the near-total abortion bans that passed late this spring in states like Georgia and Alabama. Instead, they often focused on things like heightening providers’ requirements for reporting information about abortion, restricting abortions sought after a diagnosis of Down syndrome, or mandating that doctors tell patients their abortions may be reversible. (There is no conclusive evidence that this is true.) Four states also passed laws to limit access to abortion in the event that Roe is overturned.
Of 2019’s 58 enacted anti-abortion measures, 10 were at least partially based on model legislation penned by Americans United for Life.
According to the report, however, the biggest “victory for life” is the U.S. abortion rate’s continued download trajectory. In 2017, about 18% of pregnancies ended in abortion, according to a recent report by the Guttmacher Institute, which supports abortion rights. (The report does not study data from 2018.) That’s the lowest it’s been since Roe was decided.
Americans United for Life’s report suggests a relationship between the decline and the rising number of state abortion restrictions, but the Guttmacher Institute says it’s more likely to be due to fewer people becoming pregnant in the first place, since the birth rate is declining in virtually every state.
“Anti-abortion activists are going to try and take credit for this decline, but the facts don’t support their argument,” Rachel Jones, Guttmacher’s principal research scientist, told reporters on a press call earlier this month.
Abortion opponents often crow that the end of Roe is in sight, but Americans United for Life tends to keep its expectations realistic. Earlier this year, its chief legal counsel Steve Aden told VICE News that the group has not focused on supporting so-called “heartbeat bills,” which restrict abortion as soon as a fetal heartbeat is detected — or as early as six weeks into a pregnancy.
So far in 2019, at least seven states have passed laws to limit abortion at eight weeks or earlier. Though many of these bills are deliberately engineered to challenge Roe, the Supreme Court just wasn’t ready to take up “an early gestation abortion limitation,” in Aden’s view.
“So, strategically, the efforts should be focused on bringing cases up to the court that they would take, that they would use to erode or even overturn Roe,” Aden said.
None of those laws are now in effect. Glenn believes legislators in other states may take a “wait-and-see” approach before backing more.
“There might be legislators who might be interested in that because they do see that as preparation for a post- Roe v. Wade world,” she said. “But at the same time, most legislators don’t choose to throw their weight behind laws that will definitely be tied up in the courts and have no practical effect today.”
Cover image: People rally in support of abortion rights Tuesday, May 21, 2019, in Las Vegas. Some Democratic-led states are taking steps to enshrine the right to an abortion should the U.S. Supreme Court ever overturn the 1973 Roe v Wade decision. Among them are Nevada, New York and Vermont. (AP Photo/John Locher)