Sometimes it’s good to take a step back and look at the big picture. Soon, the Supreme Court will issue their decision on HB2. This provides a good opportunity to take a look at the big picture regarding abortion.
Lots of time, energy, and downright vileness was spent in Austin when HB2 was debated and voted on. And while players may have made all the correct noises, they really didn’t want to hear their constituent’s (or donor’s/volunteer’s in the case of lobbying groups) opinions. Minds were closed, positions entrenched, and in reality the final outcome decided. Yes, a filibuster necessitated a special session, but the outcome was never in doubt. The bill was going to pass, and be challenged in Austin, and ultimately be decided at an appellate court level. The maneuvering and political theatre wasn’t directed at the outcome of the bill, but rather was directed at swaying public opinion (and in the case of the opposition to create a heckler’s veto.)
With the conclusion forgone something else is forgone also – the opportunity for meaningful change with the status quo lines of argumentation. Sure the fringes can be picked at, and sometimes the fringes can be substantial (should the ambulatory surgical center requirement be upheld as an example.) But it’s still picking at the edges, and won’t cause a meaningful change in the incidence of abortion.
If HB2 stands, the relative difficulty in having to travel to Houston, Dallas, Austin, or San Antonio (with a likely new regional center eventually opening up in Amarillo or Lubbock) might cause a downtick in incidence, but it’s not really changing the underlying fundamentals in the debate. It’s a decrease in convenience, not access, regardless of what the eight Justices decree. Hop in a your car, board a plane, ride the Greyhound, there’s plenty of access. A decrease in convenience isn’t going to make a significant change in incidence.
What will make a significant change is changing the underpinnings of the debate. The various right to life groups all serve different, but equally important, functions in addressing the underpinnings of the debate. For example, Texas Right to Life has a robust education and grass roots development program that serves to act as a counter to the pro abortion presence on colleges/universities. Save the Storks is literally in the trenches with their fleet of busses traveling to abortion centers providing an on the spot alternative. Crisis pregnancy centers provide tangible assistance as well as maintain referral networks to provide support for those in need.
These groups, in their own way, help to change the underpinnings of the debate by shifting the opinions regarding abortions to be more prolife. Polling shows that the portion of the population who believes abortion should be illegal in all circumstances is a distinct minority, topping out at 19% over time. The fluctuation in public opinion is between legal at all times versus legal only in certain circumstances.
Times were bleak for the prolife movement from 1989-1996, but the trends have come back to baseline. More telling is that of those who are dissatisfied with the current legal status on abortion the desire is for more restrictive laws, by about a 2:1 margin; and Planned Parenthood favorability has dropped by a quarter from 80% to 60% (in round numbers.) It’s reasonable to conclude that there’s an appetite for change, but the question is what direction should the prolife movement take to realize change?
Abortion clinics are closing in blue states as well as red states. In the blue states they are closing from purely economic reasons. The rate of closure is significant – two clinics close in a blue state for every three in a red state. This shows that the economic strain that comes with the overall decline in abortion rates is having a significant impact. This gives us the answer to the question.
Don’t try and legislate against abortion directly where strict scrutiny is the standard of review, but rather legislate in a manner to make prenatal care more profitable than abortions. This will be covered by a rational relationship test since you are dealing with health and safety regulation that doesn’t directly impact abortion. Although medical providers may argue that women should have access to abortion how many have strong, principled, convictions towards abortion? The answer is likely not many unless they are directly providing abortions. If prenatal care becomes more economically profitable for providers the rate of referral for abortions declines. Rather than abortion being a choice, it’s a procedure to avoid since prenatal care is more profitable. This over time lowers the incidence of abortion, and clinics who are struggling to stay afloat will close for economic reasons
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