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2011 Set Stage for War Over Abortion

Anti-abortion activists achieved landmark success last year, no thanks to Congress.

As tens of thousands protest legalized abortion outside the Supreme Court and Capitol today, leaders in the anti-abortion movement say state legislatures have provided cause to celebrate.

“2011 was certainly a watershed year in the defense of life,” said Denise Burke, vice president of Americans for United Life, noting that many state legislatures considered and passed anti-abortion measures.

And with the presidential election cycle in full swing, the activists are also encouraged by the strong anti-abortion stances of the Republican candidates.

Burke’s group is one of dozens that participate in the March for Life, an annual procession that marks the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, the landmark Supreme Court case that legalized abortion.

While the rally typically has a somber tone to mark the ongoing practice of abortions, participants are energized this year by a surge in state measures that advance their cause.

“We want to celebrate the successes of this year,” Burke said. All but three states considered anti-abortion legislation last year, and 70 such measures passed, according to AUL. Nine state legislatures also moved to cut funding to abortion providers such as Planned Parenthood.

Many of the cuts were to aspects of Planned Parenthood’s business that do not relate to abortions. The group also provides breast-cancer screenings and general health services to women.

Yet the group has found itself increasingly targeted by anti-abortion lawmakers at the state and federal level.

Last year, the House passed a bill by Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) to defund Planned Parenthood, but it was blocked in the Senate.

Anti-abortion leaders said the House victory gave momentum to the cause and spurred states to take action. Burke called it a historic vote that “lays the groundwork for future efforts.”

Marjorie Dannenfelser, president of the Susan B. Anthony List — a group that supports anti-abortion candidates—agreed.

“Even though the House was not successful, it inspired the movement all across the country at the state level,” she said.

Their successes are due in part to the focus on Planned Parenthood at a time when a wave of conservatives took over state legislatures and governors’ offices.

Planned Parenthood and other abortion providers have fought back. The organization has sued in several states to reinstate its funding, including in North Carolina, Kansas and Indiana.

“Last year, there was just an unprecedented level of attacks on women’s health,” Rachel Sussman, the group’s senior policy analyst, said in an interview. “We’re still in the midst of it.”

NARAL Pro-Choice America, another group that supports legalized abortion, released a report last week raising alarm about the high number of anti-abortion measures passed by states. The group found that state legislatures enacted twice as many anti-abortion measures in 2011 as in the year prior.

“The findings in this report should spur every American who values freedom and privacy into action,” Nancy Keenan, the group’s president, said in a statement, calling the anti-abortion efforts a “war on women.”

The state-level victories emboldened activists ahead of the massive annual March for Life event today in Washington, D.C., which is usually the largest political rally in the nation’s capital. Crowd turnout last year was estimated to be more than 100,000.

Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) is scheduled to kick off the event on the National Mall, followed by dozens of conservative Representatives. House Majority Leader Eric Cantor (R-Va.) spoke to the marchers last year.

Nellie Gray, the founder of the march, said the interest from Members in addressing the crowd encourages her.

“We will hope certainly to approach the whole issue during the upcoming [Congressional] session,” she said.

Gray said she also expects abortion to be a factor in the presidential race. All of the Republican presidential candidates have signed pledges stating their opposition to abortions, which Dannenfelser said showed the growing strength of anti-abortion activists among the conservative base.

“The fact that they all have made rock-solid commitments on anything this early in the primaries is a first,” she said.

Former Speaker Newt Gingrich (Ga.), Rep. Ron Paul (Texas) and former Sen. Rick Santorum (Pa.) have signed a pledge drafted by Dannenfelser’s group, which includes a promise to select only anti-abortion appointees for Cabinet and executive positions related to health care issues — including for attorney general.

Former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney declined to sign that pledge, but he released one of his own that stopped short of that promise. Despite that, Dannenfelser said her group approved of his position on abortion, which is increasingly “becoming a wedge issue in the right direction for the pro-life movement.”

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