Cover Story

A 'very productive' 2001

Issue: "Roe vs. Wade at 29," Jan. 19, 2002

Prosecutors in Kalamazoo, Mich., last month charged a 23-year-old man with "committing a grossly negligent act causing a miscarriage or stillbirth" after he allegedly crashed into a car, injured a woman, and caused the deaths of her unborn twin girls. In Grand Rapids, police are investigating the death of Javion Spears, the city's youngest-ever homicide victim, killed in utero last July when his mother's boyfriend allegedly beat her severely. An Ann Arbor man, who police say choked his pregnant girlfriend to death in 2000, now also faces charges in the death of her unborn child. All three cases this year will test Michigan's "fetal harm" laws, which state lawmakers strengthened in 2001. The new law, which amended Michigan's penal code to include the death of an embryo or fetus, was one of nearly two dozen approved in state legislatures last year that provide new protections for women and unborn children:

  • Lawmakers in Arkansas, Florida, and Colorado joined Michigan legislators in adding or bolstering laws designed to reduce fetal homicide and crimes against (or injury of) unborn children. Arkansas' new code in particular rankles pro-abortion groups, because it designates a "deceased viable fetus" as a person under the state's probate code.
  • Florida legislators added "viable fetuses" to their state's vehicular homicide code, but left significant philosophical wiggle-room: It defines a fetus as viable only when it becomes capable of "meaningful life" outside the womb through "standard medical measures." On another pro-life front, three states last year passed laws that provide state money for abortion alternative programs. That's a move staff attorney Dorinda Bordlee of Americans United for Life (AUL) calls the legislative "wave of the future." "For years and years, Planned Parenthood and abortionists have received government dollars to run these clinics that kill and maim women and children," said Ms. Bordlee. "Now the pro-life movement has been educated that they too can receive those dollars." Legislators in Missouri, North Dakota, and Virginia approved funding for abortion alternative programs through direct funding or tax exemptions. On the flip side of the funding coin, a new Texas law prohibits contractors with the state department of health from using taxpayer money to pay for abortions. In Idaho, lawmakers steered state dollars away from funding abortions done for "health of the mother" reasons; abortions deemed necessary to preserve the mother's life will still be funded. Regulation of the abortion industry has had pro-life effects. Louisiana legislators moved in 2001 to make abortion businesses safer, passing laws that require licensure of outpatient abortion facilities. Lawmakers there clashed with abortionists in 1999 after "Denise Doe" sued the Delta Women's Center in Baton Rouge, charging that a botched abortion had led to an infection, coma, and nonelective hysterectomy. The Louisiana legislature that year passed a law requiring that abortion clinics meet ambulatory surgical center standards, but a judge struck it down as overbroad. Lawmakers crafted the 2001 law with the judge's ruling in mind: It now specifically requires outpatient clinics providing five or more first-trimester (or any second-trimester) abortions per month to obtain a state license. Louisiana health department undersecretary Charles Castille said he expects the law to spark a new legal firestorm. Release of the abortion pill RU-486 (Mifeprex) in the United States led to different state initiatives. In Iowa, lawmakers prohibited funds appropriated to the state's universities from being used to provide drug-induced abortions at student health centers. The Louisiana legislature amended the definition of abortion to include Mifeprex-terminated pregnancies, thus extending the state's prohibition against taxpayer-funded abortions to include the baby-killing pills. But California went the other direction, loosening RU-486 restrictions. Golden State pharmacists may now sell the drug to women without a prescription. Its known side effects include severe cramping, nausea, and severe bleeding. Despite that pro-abortion victory, 2001 was "a very productive year" for pro-life legislation, said AUL's Ms. Bordlee. In addition to laws passed, she noted the introduction in several states of measures that would educate women about growing evidence of a link between abortion and breast cancer. Although no state passed such a law last year, Ms. Bordlee contends that lawmakers-and the public-are becoming more educated on the issue, making "more people aware that abortion is not only bad for children but also bad for women."

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