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Photo by Nicole S. Young

Red zone defense

Roe v. Wade | Abortion proponents are defending their own bloody red zone against a reinvigorated pro-life movement

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

Last year Markai Durham, a girl featured on MTV's 16 and Pregnant with her boyfriend James, found herself pregnant again. She explored her options, talked with her mother and best friend, and discussed with her boyfriend their financial situation and the daughter they already had. Then she made the choice they all said only she could make. But the pain seeped through.

Markai's voice broke when she called the abortion business to ask for information: "Afterwards, do you know, like, how I'll be or how I'll feel?" After the abortion, when her boyfriend called her baby a "thing," she lashed out: "You would never feel my pain. You weren't the one in the surgery room. I was there." Markai pointed to their curly-haired baby, "A 'thing' can turn out like that. . . . 'Nothing but a bunch of cells' can be her."

Georgette Forney, president of Anglicans for Life and co-founder of the Silent No More Awareness Campaign, said that Markai's outburst shows how almost 40 years of legal abortion has not made it acceptable. "We've won the battle that it's a baby," she said, crediting embryoscopy and 4-D ultrasounds that show the life in the womb. Now the major argument of abortion advocates is that women need abortion anyway, an argument countered by the pain that women like Forney and Markai feel afterward.

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Abortion advocates now have to acknowledge the pain, said Forney, but they dismiss it as fleeting. The MTV episode showed Markai a few months after her abortion celebrating her daughter Zakari's first birthday and saying she has come to terms with her decision. MTV interviewed Markai along with two other poised post-abortive young women, all of whom said their choice was painful but correct. But Forney said MTV should check 30 years from now, when the pain hasn't diminished: "Truth is on our side and sadly, the truth is realized in the lives of millions of women whose hearts are broken, who are grieving for their children."

The latest statistics from the Guttmacher Institute reveal that the national rate of abortion has stalled after declining for 15 years. The abortion rate increased slightly from 19.4 abortions per 1,000 women in 2005 to 19.6 abortions in 2008. But while the national rate stayed almost the same, some states saw large fluctuations: Abortions increased 38 percent in Louisiana but declined 45 percent in Washington, D.C. States see dramatic declines, according to research by University of Alabama assistant professor Michael New, when they pass pro-life legislation like parental notification laws.

Last year a wave of such bills offered new protections for unborn children and their mothers-89 new reproductive health laws enacted in 32 states and the District of Columbia in 2010, according to Guttmacher. That's an increase from 77 laws in 2009 and just 33 enacted in 2008. Nebraska may have the most significant change: Its new law bans abortion after 20 weeks, when some fetal researchers say the unborn child feels pain.

November's election results mean a bigger wave is likely this year. Before the last election, 52 of the 88 state legislatures (about 60 percent) were Democrat-controlled. That balance flip-flopped when the Republicans picked up 20 legislative chambers and brought their number up to 53. Seven states switched from Democratic control to total GOP control in the House, Senate, and governor's chair-some for the first time in years. The number of governors opposed to abortion increased from 21 to 29, according to a grumpy analysis by NARAL Pro-Choice America.

Sue Ellspermann, who won election to the Indiana House of Representatives, typifies the newcomers. A life-long Catholic, Ellspermann held only a personal objection to abortion before she started volunteering to do strategic planning for pro-life crisis pregnancy centers. Then she came to believe that our laws should reflect pro-life values. She chose to run for the Indiana House on a platform endorsing "the sanctity of life" because the House's lack of a pro-life majority made pro-life legislation hard to pass.

Indiana became one of the states where Republicans won a majority in both houses-after Democrats had controlled the House of Representatives for eight of the last 10 years. Of the 15 freshmen entering the legislature this year, 14 received endorsements from Indiana Right to Life, which made an explicit policy this year of never endorsing Democrats. Mike Fichter, president and CEO of Indiana Right to Life, said that IRTL-endorsed candidates promoted their endorsement more openly than in previous years.

Fichter also notes that the state elected not just pro-life legislators but also a pro-life attorney general, secretary of state, treasurer, and state auditor: "It's much more than a Republican groundswell in Indiana. It's a pro-life Republican groundswell." He expects to see 20 pro-life bills-some variations of the same bill-proposed in both the Senate and House this year. Ellspermann is sponsoring legislation that would strengthen the informed-consent law.

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