Pro-Life Troops Take Their Fight to the State Legislatures of America
Pro-life organizations, buoyed by Republican control of 31 governorships and 68 of 98 legislative chambers, have begun 2015 with almost unbridled optimism for their anti-abortion efforts in the 50 states.
It is not that they have given up on Capitol Hill.
But at a time when the states have become the engines of, and laboratories for, innovative legislative efforts, the prospects of victory at the statehouse level are looking better than ever to pro-life troops.
Wisconsin is one example of a state where anti-abortion advocates are seeing new hope.
Matt Sande, director of legislation for Pro-Life Wisconsin, told PJM that with strong GOP majorities in both houses of the Wisconsin Legislature and a “100 percent, no exceptions pro-life governor in Gov. Scott Walker,” the organization expects pro-life legislation to be offered, passed and quickly signed into law.
Pro-Life Wisconsin is also focused on a unique effort: stopping Medicaid fraud and abuse allegedly being committed by family planning organizations.
A pro-choice group, Wisconsin Family Planning and Health Association, accused Pro-Life Wisconsin and Republicans like Gov. Walker of using the audits to close family planning and abortion clinics across the state.
However, abortion advocates don’t dispute the fact that the Wisconsin Department of Health Services’ Office of the Inspector General (OIG) cited two family planning groups in August 2014 for over-billing Medicaid by a total of $3.5 million from 2010-2011.
Beth Hartung, president of the Wisconsin Family Planning and Reproductive Health Association, told WisconsinWatch.org other family planning providers in the same Medicaid program could be forced to claim a much lower reimbursement rate for birth control because they are all doing it wrong.
“My hunch is that if any one of us were audited it would come out the same way. We’re all operating the same way,” Hartung said. “It would mean, quite frankly, that we would all close.”
Hartung and other pro-choice advocates have also called the audits nothing but a ploy to cripple family planning efforts and close clinics.
“The claims being made against charitable care providers who provide low-income women with affordable access to birth control and other essential health care are simply an outrageous attempt to intimidate and threaten their continued ability to provide cost-effective care to women in need,” said Tanya Atkinson, the executive director of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Wisconsin.
“There is no wrongdoing – on the contrary. These health centers are valued community organizations that provide care to women and families who otherwise would have no place to go,” she added.
Sande said Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin, “the state’s No. 1 abortion provider,” received $14 million in state and federal funding in 2013.
Pro-Life Wisconsin discovered state officials had already conducted more than 20 audits of Planned Parenthood and found $43,000 that may have been wrongly billed.
“We oppose any use of taxpayer money for abortions or family planning,” he said. “But if they are receiving it, they should be using it prudently and responsibly.”
That is why, along with its legislative efforts, Sande said Pro-Life Wisconsin is pushing the Walker administration to provide funding for more people in the Department of Health Services’ Office of the Inspector General to conduct “comprehensive, thorough, and timely audits of all Medicaid family planning providers, especially Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin.”
Sande said Pro-Life Wisconsin has also called on the Wisconsin Legislative Audit Bureau to conduct its own investigation of possible abuse and fraud in the way taxpayer dollars are being spent by family planning agencies.
“Legislative Democrats and Republicans have a fiduciary duty to make sure state tax dollars are spent prudently and wisely, and not abused or stolen,” he said.
Sande said Pro-Life Wisconsin is also backing legislation to outlaw abortions after 20 weeks — as long as no exceptions such as to protect the life of the mother are included — and a bill that would ban the sale of aborted fetal body parts.
Michigan is another state expected to be a battleground for new anti-abortion legislative efforts. Two newly elected Republican lawmakers, both Tea Party favorites, have already drawn their lines in the sand.
Reps. Todd Courser and Cindy Gamrat have notified their supporters they will be introducing the Life at Conception Act.
“Both science and Scripture agree that life begins at conception and it is time to move in the direction of protecting the innocent and precious human child. If we, as conservatives, say we are for liberty, freedom, and life when we campaign, then we need to act on it when we are in office,” Courser wrote in an email petition to his supporters.
“When I think of what the Lord could use me for in this upcoming season of being a legislator, I am drawn by his grace that nothing could be a higher priority than protecting the freedom to be born,” Courser added.
Critics have said if the Republican-dominated legislature and GOP Gov. Rick Snyder approve this legislation it would prohibit the sale of many common forms of contraception including condoms and “the pill.”
“I pray that Michigan can lead the way in showing the nation that we value each and every person, and that America will once again stand to defend the most innocent among us,” wrote Gamrat.
In Tennessee, pro-life and pro-choice advocates have lined up for battle on Amendment One, a state constitutional amendment approved by voters Nov. 4.
Amendment One gives the state legislature new powers to regulate abortion: mandatory counseling, a waiting period, and stricter inspections of clinics.
Pro-choice forces are worried about what other new laws might be proposed under the umbrella of Amendment One.
"We are watching them, and we are watching the bills that are coming down the pike," one of the organizers of a rally opposing Amendment One, Elizabeth Porter, told WBIR-TV in Nashville. "And we are advocating for our own rights as women in the state of Tennessee.”
One proposal has already “come down the pike,” as Porter put it.
Republican Rep. Rick Womick didn’t wait ten days after the election before introducing a bill to require women to receive an ultrasound examination within 24 to 72 hours before having an abortion.
If the woman decides to view the ultrasound image of the fetus, Womick’s legislation mandates “a simultaneous verbal explanation of the results of the live, real-time ultrasound images, including a medical description of the dimensions of the embryo or fetus, the presence of cardiac activity, and the presence of arms, legs, external members and internal organs.”
The pregnant woman would also have to hear “the live, real-time heart auscultation” and would receive “a simultaneous verbal explanation of the live, real-time heart auscultation.”
Jeff Teague, the chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of Middle & East Tennessee Inc. believes Amendment One — which his group called “dangerous and flawed” — is about more than abortion rights.
“This is about religious freedom, privacy rights, government interference, and civil rights. We will continue these discussions,” Teague said.
“This amendment may give politicians more power to legislate our medical decisions, but we will fight back stronger than ever before. We know their extreme agenda is out-of-touch with what we have heard from Tennesseans in every corner of this state.”
David Fowler, president of the Family Action Council of Tennessee, called approval of Amendment One “a great victory for the people of Tennessee, who have reclaimed from our state Supreme Court their right to have a voice on abortion policy in our state. It is a victory for a government of and by and for the people, and a victory for the protection of women and their unborn.”
Pro-life and pro-choice forces in Missouri agree the battle over abortion rights in their state has already been waged and won by those working to block abortions.
For instance, Missouri only has one abortion clinic in the entire state now, and massive amounts of pro-life backed legislation were approved over the past few years.
The most recent victory for the pro-life movement occurred in September 2014, when the Missouri Legislature approved a 72-hour waiting period for abortions.
Still, Pamela Sumners, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Missouri, told the Kansas City Star she expects more than two dozen anti-abortion bills to be introduced in 2015.
“They’re just slowly chipping away at reproductive health rights,” Sumners said. “It’s a strategy to make abortion a right without a remedy. … (But) it will be quieter and the bills that pass will be less dramatic."