JavaScript disabled. Please enable JavaScript to use My News, My Clippings, My Comments and user settings.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

If you have trouble accessing our login form below, you can go to our login page.

Pro-lifers raise new barriers to abortion

The stay of execution came through late last Sunday evening.

A district court judge issued an injunction that kept Mississippi's last abortion clinic open, at least until a hearing set down for the coming Wednesday.

You can imagine the disappointment of the Governor, Phil Bryant, who has often talked of his wish to see the state ''abortion-free'', whatever the view of the Supreme Court of the United States in its 1973 Roe versus Wade decision.

In Ohio on Thursday, a pro-life group called Personhood USA failed to secure enough signatures on a petition to have a ballot that would see human life acknowledged from the moment of conception included in the coming election.

This week's setbacks aside, the American pro-life movement has been in fine form of late.

So far this year it has seen 38 provisions pass various state legislatures that in some way restrict access to abortion.

Last year it secured 135 provisions in 36 states, up from 89 in 2010 and 77 in 2009.

For the previous 35 or so years the number of anti-abortion provisions introduced each year varied from zero to about 25, according to figures gathered by the Guttmacher Institute, a Washington reproductive rights organisation.

The reason for pro-life's recent success is the 2010 mid-term elections, when hundreds of Tea Party candidates won office across the states as a result of anger at the President, Barack Obama, and the bailout of Wall Street.

Many of them had advocated balanced budgets and limited government, but curtailing abortion became a priority when in office.

Abortion was a way to signal their credentials to the angry new movement.

Pro-life activists, many of them veterans of a 40-year battle against abortion, were ready to equip the new representatives with draft legislation that chipped away at Roe v Wade.

One of the best organised groups is Americans United for Life, which is behind a third of the provisions passed last year, according to Guttmacher figures.

To understand the AUL's strategy, you need a little history.

In 1992 abortion was again considered by the Supreme Court in a case called Planned Parenthood versus Casey. Then the court upheld Roe v Wade, but allowed states to place legal restrictions on abortion as long as they did not create an ''undue burden'' on women seeking access to it.

So AUL's lawyers began to write draft bills for sympathetic politicians. When it finds success, it distributes the template nationwide.

Some laws target women seeking access to abortion, such as those that mandate waiting periods or parental consent.

Others target clinics, forcing them to adhere to ever more strict operating guidelines. For example, in some states clinics that provide only medical abortion - prescribing abortifacients in pill form - have been forced to build and maintain surgical clinics.

Many states whittled away at the age at which a foetus might be considered viable, from 23 weeks to 18 weeks.

In some cases politicians seemed to be competing to introduce the most brutal legal restrictions possible. The Arizona state representative Terri Proud proposed forcing women to watch an abortion before they had their own.

The Virginian Governor, Bob McDonnell - a man occasionally mooted as a candidate for vice-president - introduced a bill that would force women to undergo a transvaginal ultrasound before having an abortion.

When it was pointed out to him that having women subjected to the procedure for non-medical purposes would constitute rape, he modified the bill before it passed.

Normally when the laws are introduced the politicians championing them are careful to smooth the way with rhetoric supporting the right to abortion and declaring they seek only to make the process safer.

To date most activist groups on both sides of the debate appear to have been reluctant to force higher courts to consider the law.

Since neither side can predict how the Supreme Court might decide if it was to reconsider the 1973 ruling, they are biding their time and battling state to state.

But the Mississippi laws might upset this uneasy detente. Bryant is not playing by the rules.

Rather than half-heartedly acknowledging the right to abortion, he is clear in his determination to stamp it out. After one of his bills failed last year he said of his Democratic opponents, ''Their one mission in life is to abort children, is to kill children in the womb.''

Since his attacks began, two of Mississippi's clinics have closed.

Under the law to be considered at district court level this week, the remaining clinic could operate only if each of its three doctors secured admission privileges at local hospitals.

Two of them can't do this because the clinic flies them in from interstate to protect them.

If on Wednesday the court upholds Bryant's law and the clinic is forced to close, the pro-choice movement would have little choice but to appeal, says Scott Lemieux, a professor of political science who has followed the debate closely.

It would be hard to argue that closing down all Mississippi's abortion clinics with the stated intention of stamping out abortion would not appear to meet the ''undue burden'' test.

And, says Lemieux, should a higher court support the state, the Supreme Court might once again be forced to consider this uniquely American dispute.

The clinic's owner, Diane Derzis, says there has been a rush of women turning up - and braving protesters at its doors - for fear it will close.

''This is life in America for a woman seeking an abortion now,'' she told a local paper.

''It's not just Jackson, Miss. These here may be a little crazier than some other places.

''But this is the reality of a patient having an abortion in this country today. She is going to most likely cross a picket line. She is going to be screamed at, harassed.''

Featured advertisers