Catholics pray outside the state Capitol in Austin this summer as Texas legislators considered measures restricting abortion. The law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy was signed by Gov. Rick Perry July 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)
Catholics pray outside the state Capitol in Austin this summer as Texas legislators considered measures restricting abortion. The law prohibiting abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy was signed by Gov. Rick Perry July 17. (CNS photo/Reuters)

WASHINGTON (CNS) — With the recent success of abortion-related legislation at the state and federal levels, is the end in sight for pro-life supporters?

The country watched as Democratic State Sen. Wendy Davis of Fort Worth filibustered against a bill to toughen abortion regulations, only to have it passed later in a second special session and signed into law by Gov. Rick Perry.

In North Carolina, Republican Gov. Pat McCrory signed a law that tightens regulations on the state’s 16 abortion clinics, bans abortions based on the child’s gender, and expands conscience protections for health care providers. It takes effect Oct. 1.

In Virginia, the busiest abortion clinic in the state was forced to close because of safety regulations recently passed by the General Assembly.

“With the single exception of Oregon, every state has enacted some restriction on abortion,” said Chris Thompson, a lawyer with Alliance Defending Freedom, a Christian legal organization based in Arizona focused on religious freedom, same-sex marriage and pro-life issues.

This summer on Capitol Hill, the House passed the Pain Capable Unborn Protection Act to prohibit abortion nationwide after 20 weeks of gestation, approximately the stage at which scientists say unborn babies are capable of feeling pain. Supporters called it “the most important pro-life bill to be considered in the last 10 years.” It is unlikely to be passed by the Senate, but supporters still claimed the House vote as a victory.

Despite pro-life successes in state legislatures, judges have blocked enforcement of some of the laws pending the outcome of court challenges to their constitutionality.

On July 22, a federal judge in North Dakota judge enjoined a new law to ban abortion after the detection of a fetal heartbeat, which could be as early as six weeks. In Wisconsin, a law requiring that abortion doctors have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital and that women see an ultrasound before having an abortion was blocked by a judge while a legal challenge by Planned Parenthood makes its way through the courts. A similar law was blocked in Alabama July 23.

Though the Supreme Court’s decision in Casey v. Planned Parenthood permitted reasonable limitations on abortions, supporters of legal abortion say the recent legislation oversteps Casey’s boundaries.

But according to recent polling, a majority of Americans support some restrictions on abortion, especially late-term abortion. Fifty-nine percent of Americans said they would support a federal law banning abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, according to results of a HuffPost/YouGov poll released in July. But the poll also shows many Americans remain conflicted in their views.

A study released Aug. 15 by the Pew Research Center’s Religion & Public Life Project showed 49 percent of Americans consider it morally wrong to have an abortion.

Dr. Marcella Colbert, a physician and director of the Respect Life Office for the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston, said laws in Texas and other states to strengthen abortion regulations are “pro-woman.”

“This is putting in basic standards of medical practice,” she said. Colbert said injury or death from botched abortions are not unheard of and might be avoided by more stringent safety regulations and oversight. “If we’re going to have (abortion), at least we should have it in a way that does not directly affect the physical health of the mother.”

“Why someone would oppose legislation that actually gives women more information to make a very difficult decision and improves safety standards” is confusing, said Jackie Bonk, director of the pro-life office for the Diocese of Raleigh, N.C. “I just don’t see how anybody can object to that.”

While they are disappointed by legal challenges, supporters of the bills say they hope they end up at the Supreme Court, where perhaps the justices will reconsider Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that legalized abortion on demand in the U.S.

Challenges could come from different types of litigation — including challenges to the federal requirement that employers, regardless of their moral views, provide contraceptive coverage for their employees. Thompson said there’s an important clash between religious liberty and the Affordable Care Act. Movements by some states to defund Planned Parenthood or to prohibit late-term abortions could also come before the Supreme Court.

“If the 5th Circuit (Court of Appeals) upholds Texas’ version of the (20-week) law after the 9th Circuit struck down Arizona’s version, the entry of the Supreme Court to settle the debate may be likely,” said Thompson, and could lead the court to revisit Roe.

Justice Antonin Scalia in a wide-ranging interview about the court in 2012 said abortion should be left to lawmakers, not judges.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, a supporter of keeping abortion legal, commented in two interviews that she remains hesitant about the scope of Roe, saying it went “too far, too fast.”

Bonk, in Raleigh, is engaged in both activism and outreach to those affected by abortion. “This battle is not going to be overcome with assault and hammers but with love and compassion. We really have to suffer and walk with our brothers and sisters,” she said.

“We’re called to live our faith in the public square and to bring Christ’s love and mercy and healing to one another,” she added.

“It is terrible suffering that results from this,” said Colbert, who also works in the post-abortive healing ministry in her diocese. “We have to start living personal lives in relationship (to achieve) a real conversion of heart.”

Said Thompson, “There is reason for optimism both on the way the court will rule, and the likelihood that the right cases will come before it.”

— By Zoey Di Mauro Catholic News Service