NARAL Pro-Choice America sounded an alarm about “backward momentum” for abortion rights Tuesday morning while predicting a turn in the tide in 2014, following a change in tactics.
“In 2013 we saw a renewed assault on women’s basic freedoms by state legislatures out of step with modern American values,” NARAL President Ilyse Hogue said.
Among the most worrisome new laws, according to the group, are Arkansas's ban on all abortions after 12 weeks, North Dakota’s fetal-heartbeat law banning the procedure after approximately six weeks, and Texas’s law requiring a person performing an abortion to have admitting privileges at local hospitals, which has shuttered at least a dozen clinics in the state.
The reports offered little cheer for abortion supporters. According to the group’s metrics, 25 states received an "F" grade for their abortion laws, while 12 had "A" grades. Some 807 anti-abortion laws have passed since 1995, including 53 in 2013 alone. And in 2013, 21 states had a governor and legislative majority who opposed abortion rights, while seven states were fully controlled by abortion-rights supporters. The U.S. House has a significant anti-abortion majority, and even the Democratic-controlled Senate had 46 senators rated as anti-abortion, while 42 were rated as solidly pro-abortion rights.
In contrast to the torrent of anti-abortion news, NARAL cited as positive developments California’s new law allowing nurses and midwives to perform some abortions, as well as Hawaii’s law expanding access to emergency contraception and Albuquerque’s rejection of a 20-week abortion ban in a voter referendum.
With most anti-abortion laws passing at the state level, the group announced its intent to refocus on state-level races in the 2014 elections, in particular the nation’s 38 gubernatorial races and state legislative races in legislatures where control is closely contested.
“In 2014, the new defense is a political offense,” said NARAL political director Erika West.
In the past, West said, NARAL has focused on national races while allowing its state-level affiliates to focus on state races. However, with national abortion law largely static due to a divided government, the vast majority of abortion-related activity is occurring at the state level.
“It’s clear now that our best focus is to stop these politicians, before they are in place to do more damage,” West said.
The group’s first priority is to create and maintain “political firewalls,” gaining control of at least one part of state government so that additional anti-abortion laws cannot be passed. Once additional restrictions stop passing in such a flow, the group would be able to promote additional pro-abortion rights legislation.
“Reversing this trend is a long-term game. We need to make gains in 2014, but it’s going to take several cycles to take hold,” Hogue said.
While the group declined to declare which races they were prepared to invest resources in, Hogue said defeating an anti-abortion governor in a solidly red state would be the best way to send a message, citing Gov. Sam Brownback’s (R-Kan.) race against Democrat Paul Davis as a potential opportunity for a significant win.
Carol Tobias, president of the National Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group, predicted NARAL's attempt to swing state elections by highlighting and attacking the anti-abortion records of candidates would be "an uphill battle."
"People in the states are electing pro-life legislators because they support pro-life laws," Tobias said. She added that the group's strategic shift is "an acknowledgement that, one, pro-life people have worked very hard to pass laws protecing women and unborn children...and two, that [NARAL's] position is for abortion to be allowed at any time," a position she said less than 20 percent of Americans shared.