Elated and emboldened, anti-abortion activists in state after state are planning to push for stringent new limits on second- and third-trimester abortions in the hopes of building on their victory Wednesday at the Supreme Court.
By a 5-4 vote, the justices upheld a federal ban on a procedure critics call "partial-birth abortion," which involves partially delivering the fetus, then crushing its skull. The ruling included strong language asserting the state's "legitimate, substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life."
Advocates on both sides of the abortion debate predicted the ruling would spur a flood of legislation.
"We're moving beyond putting roadblocks in front of abortions to actually prohibiting them," said Troy Newman, president of Operation Rescue, a national anti-abortion group based in Wichita, Kan. "This swings the door wide open."
He and other strategists said they hope to introduce legislation that would:
¢ Ban all abortion of viable fetuses, unless the mother's life is endangered.
¢ Ban mid- and late-term abortion for fetal abnormality, such as Down syndrome or a malformed brain.
¢ Require doctors to tell patients in explicit detail what the abortion will involve, show them ultrasound images of the fetus and warn them that they might become suicidal after the procedure.
¢ Lengthen waiting periods so women must reflect on such counseling for several days before obtaining the abortion.
It is far from certain that the Supreme Court would uphold all these proposals. But anti-abortion activists clearly feel momentum is on their side.
In particular, they're pleased that the court upheld an outright ban - with no exceptions - on a surgical procedure performed in the second trimester, when the fetus is too large to be evacuated through a suction tube.
For more than 30 years, the Supreme Court has required every major restriction on abortion to include an exception waiving the law if a woman's physical or emotional health is at stake.
As a result, many abortion bans have been largely symbolic. At least 40 states, for instance, outlaw abortion of viable fetuses - but because of the health exception, doctors still can terminate such pregnancies if they certify that the woman suffers depression or anxiety.
Abortion opponents consider that a major loophole, leading to what they call "abortion on demand." The ruling Wednesday gave them hope for a new standard. The procedure at issue is used only rarely - it's more common in second-trimester abortions to dismember the fetus inside the womb - but abortion doctors had argued that they should be able to use it when they considered it better for the woman's health. The justices disagreed.
Abortion-rights attorney Katherine Grainger predicted that the ruling would "open the floodgates" in state after state.
"The state's interest in the fetus has now been elevated above the woman's health, whereas before, the women's health always trumped," said Grainger, who directs state policy for the Center for Reproductive Rights. "States are going to push the boundaries and try to restrict access on all fronts."
Because most state legislatures have just a few more weeks in session, Grainger said she expects the bulk of the proposals to come next year. When the bills are filed, anti-abortion activists plan to pursue two strategies that won tacit endorsement in the Supreme Court ruling.
First, they intend to try stirring public discomfort about specific abortion techniques. The Supreme Court opinion referred to the partial delivery of a live fetus during an abortion as "shocking." Activists plan to argue that other, far more common, methods of ending pregnancy are just as distasteful.