POLITICS

Forty years after Roe vs. Wade, abortion in U.S. spotlight due to Texas, Ohio bills

07/01/2013 05:28 EDT | Updated 08/31/2013 05:12 EDT
WASHINGTON - During the usual lull in U.S. politics leading up to the Fourth of July holiday this week, the photograph was startling -- Ohio Gov. John Kasich, surrounded by a male-only group of state lawmakers, signing into law a budget bill that contains several strict anti-abortion provisions.

Ohio is now home to some of the most stringent abortion laws in the country, joining Texas on the national stage as a battleground in the hot-button debate that still bitterly divides Americans.

The Ohio measures — now the law of the land in a state won by President Barack Obama in the past two elections — require any woman seeking an abortion to have an ultrasound. It also substantially cuts funding to Planned Parenthood, likely forcing the closure of three women's health clinics that provide low-cost birth control to women.

It also puts rape crisis clinics on notice — if they're caught counselling sexual assault victims about abortion, they're at risk of losing public funding. The bill does, however, provide funding for "crisis pregnancy centres" often operated by religious organizations that don't offer abortion referral services.

The law was quietly signed into law on Sunday night by Kasich — who didn't take questions from reporters on the measures — as the abortion battle in Texas was back in the spotlight on Monday following last week's 11-hour filibuster by Wendy Davis, a Democratic state senator whose antics earned international attention.

Gov. Rick Perry called a special session of the state legislature on Monday in order to consider the legislation that would prohibit most abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy and limit where and how Texan women can obtain abortions. The Senate recessed until next week, when it will take up the bill after committee hearings this week.

Davis, whose filibuster scuttled the bill, was given a hero's welcome from thousands of pro-choice demonstrators who rallied at the Texas state legislature in Austin before the special session got under way.

"Together we can do what they won't," Davis told the cheering crowd. "We can stand. We can stand up together. We can stand up for what's right. We can stand up for Texas."

Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, told the rally: "We survived hurricanes and tornadoes and we'll survive the Texas legislature too."

Forty years after the U.S. Supreme Court deemed abortion legal, however, most polls suggest more Americans are pro-life than pro-choice.

That’s in stark contrast to the situation in Canada, where public opinion surveys routinely find that Canadians overwhelmingly support legal abortion. A recent Angus Reid poll also found that Canadians have no appetite for reopening the debate on abortion.

Despite American poll numbers, the simmering social issue caused trouble for Republicans on the campaign trail during the 2012 presidential election, particularly when one Senate hopeful suggested the female body "shuts down" after rape in order to prevent an unwanted pregnany. Missouri's Todd Akin was arguing why he believed exceptions for rape in abortion legislation were not necessary.

Abortion and access to birth control created a wedge issue for Obama against Republicans, with 55 per cent of female voters ultimately casting their ballots for the president.

"This is why Mitt Romney lost in 2012," read the headline on an email sent to reporters over the weekend from the Democratic Governors Association about the events in Ohio, calling the anti-abortion measures "controversial, unpopular, and well out of the mainstream in any state, let alone Ohio."

The Democratic National Committee had a similar message, calling Kasich's legislation "just the latest example of Republicans' extreme agenda on women's health — an agenda that aims to systematically prevent personal medical decisions from remaining between a woman and her doctor."