Washington — While action on a bill that would ban abortions in the United States after the 20-week mark has been delayed in the House of Representatives, pro-life activists said they remain optimistic about efforts to restrict abortion, especially at the state level.
Several states, including South Carolina, West Virginia and Kansas, are moving forward on various forms of legislation meant to protect the life of the unborn.
"What happened in Congress hasn't slowed down the progress that states are making at all," said Dan McConchie, vice president of government affairs at Americans United for Life. "What we're currently seeing is a smattering of various forms of pro-life legislation across the country ... and states are continuing to move ahead on a myriad of issues and on a number of fronts."
Pro-life members of the House had planned to mark the Roe anniversary Jan. 22 by voting that day on the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which would prohibit abortion after 20 weeks -- when an unborn baby can feel pain -- unless the life of the mother is in danger.
But after at least 20 House members raised concerns about the measure, H.R. 36, GOP leaders determined late Jan. 21 they would fall short of the needed votes to pass it and postponed consideration of the bill.
It was referred back to the committee amid concerns raised about the bill's rape and incest exceptions. In cases of rape, a woman would be allowed to get an abortion only after reporting the rape to law enforcement. The bill has not yet been scheduled for another floor vote.
On the same day that the House withdrew H.R. 36 from the floor, a five-member panel of the South Carolina House passed a similar pain-capable measure, H. 1334, which also would ban abortions after 20 weeks. The House Judiciary Committee has to approve it before it goes to the floor for a vote.
A comparable bill passed the South Carolina House last year but died in the Senate when the legislative session ended in June. "It was like getting up to the 1-yard line and losing," said Holly Gatling, executive director of South Carolina Citizens for Life.
Despite the difficulties posed in last year's attempt at passage, Gatling is optimistic about this legislative session.
"We do expect that it will pass the Senate this year," said Gatling, though she expects a "much tougher fight" than in the House. When asked about whether or not Republican Gov. Nikki Haley would sign it, she replied that Haley "has signed two big pieces of pro-life legislation since being in office; she is pro-life and she will sign this bill."
The current limit on abortion in the Palmetto State is 24 weeks after conception.
According to McConchie, much of the proposed, state-level legislation has to do with issues such as requiring hospital admitting privileges for clinic doctors, strengthening enforcement of existing laws, and banning abortions for sex selection.
Ten states currently have laws in place banning abortions after the 20th week of pregnancy, while Tennessee went so far in its last election cycle as to amend its constitution to state that nothing within it "secures or protects a right to abortion."
"What we like to remind people is that pro-life legislation saves babies' lives," Gatling said when asked about the importance of state-level pro-life measures. "We have data beginning in 1970 that shows a clear correlation between the passage of these kinds of laws and a decrease in abortion. We have worked to get 14 pieces of pro-life legislation passed in South Carolina since 1988 and during the same time period, we have witnessed a 58 percent decrease in abortions."
Regarding H.R. 36 at the federal level, McConchie said that he expected to see a newer, revised version of the bill put before the 114th Congress at some point.
"What the members have said is that they're currently working on the wording of the bill," McConchie told Catholic News Service. "We expect them to bring it back up, but we don't know of a timetable for it right now."
Looking for comments?
We've suspended comments on NCRonline.org for a while. If you missed that announcement, learn more about our decision here.