In Shadow of Arkansas Law, Anti-Abortion Groups Divided Over Legal Tactics

by David Crary, The Associated Press  on Thursday, Mar. 7, 2013 4:14 pm  

In Ohio, these include a requirement that a woman seeking an abortion meet with a doctor at least 24 hours beforehand to be cautioned about medical risks and informed of alternatives that would lead to childbirth.

One of the groups most active in pushing state anti-abortion bills has been Americans United for Life.

Its spokeswoman, Kristi Hamrick, declined to criticize the Arkansas 12-week ban, but made clear that AUL preferred a less draconian approach taken by 10 states - prohibiting most abortions after 20 weeks under the disputed premise that a fetus may be capable of feeling pain at that stage.

"That's a good way to go forward," she said. "We believe it has a good chance of surviving legally."

On Wednesday, however, Idaho became the first of those 10 states to have its so-called fetal pain law struck down by a federal court as an unconstitutional violation of Roe v. Wade.

Abortion-rights groups welcomed the Idaho ruling, and so did the National Right to Life Committee, from a different perspective. The committee voiced hope that an appeal would lead the case to the U.S. Supreme Court and produce a ruling upholding the right of states to use fetal pain as a ground for banning abortions after 20 weeks.

It could take at least a year, likely longer, for any legal challenge to reach the Supreme Court, even if the justices did agree to hear an abortion case. And there's no guarantee the court's makeup would be the same; at present, it's generally viewed as representing a 5-4 majority in favor of upholding Roe, with Justice Anthony Kennedy considered a swing vote willing to consider some substantive state-level restrictions.

Steve Aden, who helps oversee abortion issues for the Christian legal group Alliance Defending Freedom, suggested that the 20-week bans had a better chance of reaching the high court than measures such as the heartbeat bill or the new Arkansas ban.

However, he said the entire swath of bills conveyed a common message.

"What they demonstrate," he said, "is that there's a tidal wave of sentiment at the grass-roots level that abortion is unconscionable and that states should do their utmost in restricting it."

From the other side of the debate, Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights said she saw some educational value in laws like the Arkansas ban.

"They reveal what the end game is, which is to ban abortions as early as possible," she said. "This isn't chipping away. It's taking a sledgehammer."

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