Targeting reproductive rights

We talked the other day about the seemingly endless stream of bills from congressional Republicans targeting American women’s reproductive rights. But it’s worth noting the crusade in Washington pales in comparison to what we’re seeing at the state level. Emily Bazelon explains today:

Ever since Republicans took control of half the country’s statehouses this year, the anti-abortion movement has won one victory after another. At least 64 new anti-abortion laws have passed, with more than 30 of them in April alone. The campaign is the largest in history and also the most creative. Virginia started regulating abortion clinics as if they were hospitals. Utah, Nebraska and several other states have stopped private health insurers from covering abortions, with rare exceptions. South Dakota will soon tell women that before they go to an abortion clinic, they must first visit a crisis pregnancy center whose mission is to talk them out of it.

For abortion foes, the state victories are a balm after a long period of frustration. “In eight years of Bush, we saw almost no movement,” one anti-abortion organizer told me. But now? “The way we’re gathering momentum is just amazing,” says Charmaine Yoest, the president of Americans United for Life. Her group offers state lawmakers 32 pieces of model legislation, and its approach is to chip away at the protections of Roe v. Wade rather than challenge it outright. Taken together, these new state laws are hugely effective — incrementalism on steroids.

Naturally, abortion rights advocates are terrified by this.

And they should be.

It’s worth noting that the point of Bazelon’s piece was to explore the legal strategies involved in the larger debate, and the ways in which pro-choice advocates “are being remarkably shrewd in their case selection.” It’s an important observation, and it’s well worth reading.

But I’m still taken aback by the scope of the conservative efforts themselves. Congressional Republicans have prioritized abortion over unemployment; state Republicans have passed at least 64 bills related to abortion rights in just five months; and in some states, the crusade is so aggressive, policymakers are banning specific abortion procedures that aren’t even being practiced in those states.

I wonder how many Americans, who don’t closely follow the struggle to protect reproductive rights, were lulled into a false sense of security, assuming that recent Republican victories would lead to far-right economic policies, but not a renewed culture war over abortion. For that matter, I also wonder how many pro-choice advocates didn’t bother to show up to the polls in 2010 because they simply didn’t appreciate the seriousness of the threat.