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Anti-abortion activists gather this week in Washington for their annual March for Life, eager to cheer on a continuing wave of federal and state abortion restrictions.
However, many activists on both sides of the debate already are looking ahead to March 4, when the U.S. Supreme Court hears its first major abortion case since the addition of two justices appointed by President Donald Trump.
The case is likely to reveal whether the court — more conservative since the arrival of Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh — is now willing to weaken the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision that established a nationwide right to abortion.
At issue is a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law is similar to one in Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016. Abortion opponents hope the reconfigured court will allow it to take effect.
The Trump administration has sided with Louisiana in the case, arguing in a recent Justice Department brief that the contested law should be accepted.
“We're really looking forward to the oral arguments to see how the court weighs in," said Jeanne Mancini, president of the March for Life.
Nancy Northup, CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, said it was “alarming” that the administration — along with more than 200 Republican members of Congress — now supports a restriction that was struck down by the high court as an undue burden on women seeking abortion.
“What was true about this undue burden in 2016 remains true today,” she said. “All that has changed is the election of a president who ran on a promise to reverse Roe v. Wade.”
The March for Life is scheduled for Friday, two days after the 47th anniversary of the Roe decision. Its theme this year is “Life Empowers: Pro-Life Is Pro-Woman” — an effort to link the march to the women’s suffrage movement ahead of 100th anniversary celebrations later this year for the 19th Amendment that gave American women the right to vote.
Anti-abortion leaders contend that prominent suffragist Susan B. Anthony strongly opposed abortion. Some scholars have challenged that view.
While most prominent politicians who oppose abortion are Republican, one of the scheduled March for Life speakers is Louisiana State Sen. Katrina Jackson, an anti-abortion Democrat who authored the bill regarding hospital admitting privileges.
“It’s gotten harder and harder to have people from both sides of the aisle speak at the March for Life,” Mancini said. Jackson "has been stalwart in Louisiana, and it’s important to hear from her.”
Last year, Louisiana was among several states passing bills that would ban most abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detected, as early as six weeks into pregnancy. Alabama lawmakers went further, outlawing virtually all abortions. Those bills remain tied up in courts, but a new wave of anti-abortion measures is taking shape as legislative sessions get under way in most states.
Among the most ambitious are proposed amendments to the state constitutions in Iowa and Kansas. If they get legislative approval, they would go to the voters as ballot measures.
The resolution introduced in Iowa declares there is no right to an abortion under the state Constitution — a response to an Iowa Supreme Court ruling that the constitution guarantees women freedom to make their own health decisions, including whether to have an abortion.
The proposed amendment in Kansas would declare that legislators can regulate abortion as they see fit, neutralizing a state Supreme Court ruling that the Kansas Constitution protects access to abortion as a fundamental right.
Nebraska lawmakers will consider a bill that would ban a common second-trimester abortion procedure. Federal courts have blocked similar laws in other states.
In Florida, there’s a bill requiring girls under 18 get their parents’ consent before having an abortion. Current law only requires that the parents be notified.
And in Virginia, where Democrats now hold legislative power, there will be moves to roll back abortion restrictions passed under Republican control. Abortion-rights supporters are hopeful that other Democratic-controlled legislatures, uncertain about the Supreme Court’s direction, will take steps to protect abortion access.
“We expect to see several states moving bills like that, especially with the specter of a Supreme Court decision that would eviscerate the protections promised by Roe,” said Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health.
Another subplot in this year’s abortion drama involves the Equal Rights Amendment.
Virginia last week became the 38th state to ratify the gender-equality measure that was approved by Congress back in 1972. That’s the number of states required to make the amendment part of the U.S. Constitution, but ERA opponents note that Congress set a 1982 deadline for ratification and say the process would have to start all over again.
Abortion-rights supporters are eager to nullify the deadline and get the amendment ratified so it could be used to overturn state laws restricting abortion. Abortion opponents cite that stance in arguing that the deadline should be enforced and the ERA sidelined.
“Any vote for the ERA is a vote for abortion," said Anne Schlafly Cori of the conservative advocacy group Eagle Forum. Her mother, Eagle Forum founder Phyllis Schlafly, spearheaded a highly successful opposition movement to the amendment in the 1970s.
Reproductive rights, including abortion access, were among the issues highlighted last weekend at women's marches in Washington and other cities. Conversely, anti-abortion activists already have staged their local Marches for Life in several cities, including Raleigh, North Carolina, and Phoenix.
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