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On Roe anniversary, abortion opponents look to White House to fast-track national ban

This year’s annual March for Life brought a message of helping women, with limited proposals

By Sofia Resnick, States Newsroom - January 22, 2024
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Anti-abortion demonstrators march toward the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington.
Anti-abortion demonstrators march toward the U.S. Supreme Court during the March for Life, Friday, Jan. 20, 2023, in Washington. (AP Photo/Jose Luis Magana)

Falling snow and flight delays thinned this year’s anti-abortion March for Life in Washington, D.C., on Friday, but did not deter the most impatient activists in the movement, those unsatisfied until the entire U.S. map is red with abortion bans.

“I’m not okay with abortion states and non-abortion states. I want an abortion-free America,” said Right to Life of East Texas director Mark Lee Dickson, standing outside the White House the day before, at a sparsely attended protest organized by the Christian Defense Coalition where activists held signs of aborted fetuses.

Nearly two years into a post-Roe America, the battle over abortion rights is being waged primarily at the state level, but this year holds multiple opportunities for abortion opponents to effect a national ban.

Beyond the two major abortion cases headed to the U.S. Supreme Court lies a pivotal presidential election. Many anti-abortion groups have galvanized around former President Donald Trump, who despite his more recent mixed messaging on abortion in the face of GOP election losses, personally takes credit for overturning Roe v. Wade. Dickson is among activists confident that Trump would try to fast-track national abortion restrictions through executive orders and by enforcing archaic laws like the Comstock Act, as part of the Project 2025 plan drafted by far-right groups.

“If we got Donald J. Trump back in the White House, he could end abortion in every single state in America, by enforcing the Comstock Act,” Dickson told States Newsroom.

Dickson, who is one of the architects behind Texas’s controversial SB8 abortion ban, which empowers private citizens to sue abortion providers or those who assist abortion seekers, has been helping to pass local ordinances that make it a crime for an abortion to be performed on residents of specific cities. He said many anti-abortion activists are working to enforce these ordinances by spending time outside of clinics in neighboring abortion-access states like New Mexico and asking traveling Texans where home is.

“The pro-life movement is very interconnected,” Dickson said. “There are people outside of the abortion facilities in Albuquerque. What are they doing? They’re reaching out trying to save lives. And in that process, as those discussions are happening, it’s very easy to imagine a situation where someone a sidewalk counselor is ministering and the person says, ‘Where are you from?’ And they say, ‘I’m from Abilene, Texas.’ ‘Well, abortion facility, you’re in violation of the law of Abilene, and you can be sued if you perform an abortion on this Abilene resident.’”

He said his group has been shutting down sections of major roads in Texas saying “if you cross this road then you could be sued into oblivion if you are assisting in abortion trafficking.”

Abortion-access advocates

It’s in this atmosphere that has deeply impacted access to abortion around the country but especially for people of color and undocumented immigrants, said National Latina Institute for Reproductive Justice Executive Director Lupe M. Rodriguez, speaking at a media briefing earlier this week organized by abortion-access advocates.

“Roe never made abortion care accessible for communities of color,” Rodriguez said. “Anti- abortion politicians have been working for decades to make abortions difficult to get. And these attacks have fallen hardest and continue to fall hardest on Latinas and Latinx and other communities of color in the U.S. who may work multiple jobs that provide no sick days or insurance coverage and often live in underserved communities. Since Roe was overturned, access to care has absolutely gone from bad to worse.”

Since the Dobbs ruling overturned federal abortion rights under Roe, patients across the country alleging they’ve been denied emergency pregnancy care have been filing lawsuits and jumping into politics. The New Yorker recently published a high-profile story about Yeniifer Alvarez-Estrada Glick, who reportedly died of pregnancy-related causes and was not offered the option to terminate her dangerous pregnancy.

Abortion opponents have largely dismissed concerns about people being denied emergency medical care because of abortion bans. At this year’s March for Life, headlined by former NFL tight end Benjamin Watson, none of the rally’s speakers brought up the issue. The theme this year was “With every woman, for every child,” focused on helping people facing crisis pregnancies.

“Roe is done, but abortion is still legal and thriving in too much of America,” said Watson, during a pre-march rally Friday, ahead of what would have been the 51st anniversary Monday of the Roe v. Wade decision. “Roe is done, but even so in the cold and the snow you have continued to travel from around the nation to this place to recognize that the fight for life is not over. … With uncommon courage we must do justice not only by protecting innocent people in life, but by correcting injustice and rebuilding opportunities so that mothers and fathers can flourish.”

Anti-abortion pregnancy centers

But the policy prescriptions offered at the rally focused largely on public funding for anti-abortion pregnancy centers, which are largely staffed by conservative Christian volunteers and offer certain baby items. Many of these centers have a record of spreading misinformation about abortiondisrupting online searches for abortion seekers, and sometimes serving as abortion-law enforcers.

New U.S. Speaker of the House Mike Johnson (R-La.) touted two bills the House passed this week, one that would require colleges to inform students about the rights of pregnant students and one that would require the federal government to fund anti-abortion pregnancy centers.

“I am myself a product of an unplanned pregnancy in January of 1972,” said Johnson, who has fought abortion and contraceptive rights most of his career and previously worked as a lawyer for Alliance Defending Freedom. The conservative Christian legal firm is involved in both lawsuits to be heard by the Supreme Court this year, which could impact the future of receiving emergency medical care in states with abortion bans, and access to an abortion drug commonly used for first-trimester abortions and to manage miscarriages. “Exactly one year before Roe v. Wade, my parents who were just teenagers at the time, chose life. And I am very profoundly grateful that they did. … We have to build a culture that encourages and assists more and more people to make that same decision.”

But some abortion opponents think political leaders are not doing enough to address the root causes of abortion in policy.

Catherine Glenn Foster, a constitutional lawyer and a longtime leader in the anti-abortion movement, said current state abortion bans are not adequately providing support to pregnant people, and she noted concern about stories of being denied emergency medical care. Foster drew criticism shortly after Roe was overturned when during a congressional appearance she said terminating a pregnancy for a young child should not be considered an abortion. Having previously led the anti-abortion policy organization Americans United for Life and worked for ADF, Foster is now an independent speaker and writer and currently assisting Terrisa Bukovinac’s long-shot presidential campaign as an anti-abortion Democrat.

The divorced mom has spoken often about an abortion she had as a college student that she now regrets and felt pressured into. She told States Newsroom in a phone interview on her way to speak at a March for Life event that she leans progressive in a movement whose leadership is overrepresented by far-right conservatives. Foster’s is one of the quieter voices advocating for making birth free.

“I think we need to just take a step back and look at our policies of how we handle life in America, how we’re supporting pregnant people and parenting people and families and partners and make sure that we’re there for them, things like make birth free, things like parental leave, things like workplace protections, resources, taking care of people’s financial and relational needs, and just empowering them.”

Notably, Foster said states should not enact bans and restrictions without passing policies that address economic instability, which is a common driver of abortion.

“Really, I don’t think we should be introducing any kind of ban without coordinating a corresponding joint effort to simultaneously provide resources and support – even beyond the issue of abortion,” Foster said.

But she opposes the growing movement around the country to enshrine abortion rights in state constitutions and supports attorneys general fighting these efforts. While at Americans United for Life, Foster helped push model legislation passed in states all over the country that reproductive rights activists say limited abortion and reproductive care access long before Roe was overturned. These activists are now capitalizing on the momentum from the previous two elections where voters have demonstrated broad support for abortion access.

“Abortion is not a controversial issue; it’s a gerrymandered issue,” said Jennifer Driver who spoke at Wednesday’s abortion-landscape media briefing. The senior director of reproductive rights for the State Innovative Exchange (SiX), which she said does not endorse candidates, said the abortion rights movement needs to focus on the states this year and highlighted her home state of Alabama, whose lawmakers have proposed prosecuting pregnant people who have abortions for murder.

“People are being robbed of their freedom, sometimes their fertility, because they do not have timely access [to abortion],” said Nourbese Flint, the vice president of All* Above All Action Fund. Their new national political action committee Flint said is the first founded by women of color and will focus on funding candidates that support reproductive justice. “This is our rallying cry. … It is deeply important that we need to be bold, courageous in our fight for our ability to control our bodies and our future.”

This story was originally published in the Florida Phoenix


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