Cover Story
WORTH STANDING UP FOR: Mia McCord holds John Mark on Mother’s Day.
Kyle Sanders
WORTH STANDING UP FOR: Mia McCord holds John Mark on Mother’s Day.

State-level surge

Roe v. Wade | Last year was a good one for pro-life politics in America’s state capitals

Issue: "The wonder of life," Jan. 25, 2014

NEBRASKA, KANSAS, OKLAHOMA, and TEXAS—Mia McCord told her boss, Texas state Sen. Kelly Hancock, that she’d have her baby after the 2013 legislative session ended in May. With a July 17 due date, that seemed like a safe promise.

But in early April doctors diagnosed her with severe preeclampsia. Her life and the child’s life were at risk. They needed to deliver the baby. Mia was 26 weeks pregnant.

Born last April 10, John Mark weighed 1 pound, 4.8 ounces and measured 11.5 inches. He could fit into the palm of your hand. His own hands were the size of thumbnails. Doctors let Mia get a glimpse of her son before taking him to the neonatal intensive care unit at University Medical Center Brackenridge in Austin.

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Half a mile from that hospital sits the Texas state Capitol. There, weeks after John Mark’s birth, state Sen. Wendy Davis filibustered for 11 hours against a series of pro-life bills. While journalistic publicists obsessed over the pink tennis shoes Davis wore during her marathon abortion speech (prompting Barack Obama to tweet, “something special is happening in Austin tonight”), Sen. Hancock posted on Twitter pictures of John Mark fighting for life.

“Tell me this child is not viable,” Hancock tweeted. “Tell me this child is not worth standing up for?”

In 2013, as the federal government grew more pro-abortion with the advent of Obamacare, Hancock and other legislators around the country enjoyed unprecedented pro-life success in state capitals. Last year 24 states passed laws limiting abortion, according to the Charlotte Lozier Institute. These laws are yielding results: A record 87 abortion clinics shut down in 2013.

Pro-life state laws now include bans on human cloning, sex-selection abortions, and wrongful birth lawsuits. States are holding abortion businesses to higher medical standards and requiring them to display ultrasounds and provide better documentation. Judges now have a harder time bypassing parental notification requirements when a minor seeks an abortion.

Last year North Dakota banned abortions if a fetal heartbeat can be detected, which can be as soon as six weeks, and passed the nation’s first prohibition on abortions for genetic abnormalities such as Down syndrome. Arkansas lawmakers overrode a governor’s veto and passed their own heartbeat protection act. Florida approved a measure saying infants born alive during an abortion are entitled to the same rights as a child born in a natural birth.

Courts are often setting aside such legislation as they wait for new U.S. Supreme Court guidance, but in states like Nebraska, Kansas, Oklahoma, and Texas lawmakers are acting like the “lesser magistrates” in Christian political theory and speaking out on pro-life issues rather than pre-emptively surrendering to judges or Washington officials. 

“We don’t have to beg for scraps,” said Jonathan Stickland, a Texas state representative. Referring to personal offenses, he noted that “as Christians we are taught to turn the other cheek.” Public policy issues like abortion are different, though: “We can grab our sword and fight.” In Lincoln, Topeka, Oklahoma City, and Austin, legislators are doing just that as they prioritize pro-life bills.

WANTING TO SEE for myself this new mood, I started in Nebraska, where in 2010 lawmakers passed the nation’s first ban on abortions at 20 weeks of pregnancy. That’s the current time medical technology shows babies in the womb can feel pain. 

Julie Schmit-Albin, the executive director of Nebraska Right to Life, took me to a gray concrete-block building on a busy road in the city of Bellevue. The building looks like a squat, medium-security prison. Cameras peer down from roof corners, and windows of thick glass are not made for looking out or looking in. 

“You’d question any medical care you’d be getting in there,” Schmit-Albin said. “It looks like a veterinarian clinic.” But it’s not: The building houses what remains of LeRoy Carhart’s late-term abortion business.

Not long after Nebraska lawmakers passed the law protecting unborn children capable of feeling pain, Carhart decided to take the bulk of his abortion business to Maryland. Nebraska law now bans abortionists from using mental health as an exception for late-term abortions and requires abortionists to report the gestational length, weight, and age of every baby aborted—two more reasons Carhart opened up shop elsewhere.

During the first six months after the fetal pain law went into effect, the abortion rate dropped 14 percent in the Nebraska county housing Carhart’s center. Overall, Nebraska’s abortion rate dropped to a 20-year low of 2,229 in 2012 compared to more than 5,600 in 1992. One of Carhart’s Maryland patients died during a late-term abortion procedure last year.


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