Abortion in 2010

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The New York Times reported this morning that legislation regulating abortions is abounding at the state level, but the movement isn’t on a much larger scale than previous years — about 600 abortion-related state laws have passed since 1995, while 24 have passed so far this year. But that’s not to say there aren’t some notable abortion-in-2010 trends — or that some upcoming elections won’t uniquely hinge on this textbook social debate.

During the past year, abortion opponents have pushed dissuasive measures, particularly those making abortion less affordable, more than outright bans of the procedure itself. It’s a move that is on the one hand timeless because all-out prohibitions, even if more attractive to anti-abortion activists, are more susceptible to being struck down in courts à la Roe v. Wade. But it has been especially prolific in 2010 because health care reform gave states opportunities to decide whether public money could be used for abortions. (Even if some cash is already off-limits, many states have separately addressed how public exchange funding will be used.) And that has in turn breathed life back into the public debate on the whole.

Arizona, Mississippi and Tennessee have already passed new laws making public money a no-go, and more bills keep piling up elsewhere on governors’ desks, such as that of Florida Gov. Charlie Crist. Crist, currently running as an independent in the Florida Senate race, has indicated that he’ll veto the bill, but he’s meanwhile weathering storms of pressure from every direction, and Marco Rubio, the likely Republican nominee, is salivating over the prospect of being able to say that Crist has allowed the public funding of abortions in the Sunshine State — one eventuality of an HB 1143 veto.

That bill also contains another anti-abortion favorite making recent headlines: the ultrasound. Though by no means new — about 20 states already have some form of ultrasound provision — its star is back in ascension. Some of the eight or so laws that could likely be enacted this year mandate that a woman be shown an ultrasound before she can have an abortion, while others only require that an ultrasound be offered. And some rare bits of legislation, as that passed last month in Oklahoma via veto-override (though temporarily blocked by court order), the woman must also listen to a detailed description of any discernible fetus features.

“This activity has been going on for a long time, but there’s more exposure to what is going on in the states than in the past,” says Ted Miller, a spokesman for NARAL Pro-Choice America. He cites health care reform and Obama’s pro abortion-rights status as the reasons that abortion laws are, while not necessarily greater in number, getting more attention — and why fires seem to be lit as strongly as ever beneath the anti-abortion contingency, despite abortion rates falling for the past two decades.