Where The Real Action Is...

For all the debate in Washington, the battle over abortion is actually in the states, which are imposing more limits than ever. MISSOURI is a case study

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PRO-ROE: Advocates in St. Louis mark the 33rd anniversary of the decision

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Increasingly, the question of how difficult it is to get an abortion--and sometimes whether you can get one at all--depends on where you live and how much money you have. Last year state legislatures across the country passed 52 new laws restricting abortion, more than twice as many as in 2004.

Few states were more active than Missouri, where Republicans last year took control of the Governor's mansion and both houses of the legislature for the first time in 84 years and thus strengthened the antiabortion majority in the statehouse in Jefferson City. Governor Matt Blunt even summoned the legislature into special session in September to pass bills that allow civil suits to be brought against anyone who helps a Missouri teen obtain an abortion without a parent's consent and that require doctors who perform abortions to have privileges at a hospital within 30 miles of the clinic. Generally, only local doctors can get those, and abortion providers often do not live close to where they work. That was largely why the Springfield clinic closed. The Missouri legislature is back in session this month, and abortion-rights foes have another list of bills they hope to pass, including one that would protect pharmacists who refuse to fill prescriptions for morning-after pills from lawsuits and employer sanctions, give tax credits to centers that discourage pregnant women from having abortions, and require that pain relief be given to fetuses that are aborted after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

One reason that abortion-rights opponents in Missouri and elsewhere succeed in winning restrictions is that regulations on the procedure generally enjoy broad popular support, even among people who say they want to keep abortion legal. Pollsters say that Americans' views on abortion have shifted relatively little since Roe v. Wade, that they have always been complicated and that sometimes they are even contradictory. In a survey by the Pew Research Center last July, for instance, 65% of those polled said they oppose the idea of overturning Roe v. Wade, but nearly an identical percentage said they would like to see more legal restrictions. Among the most popular: mandatory waiting periods, parental- and spousal-notification requirements and a ban on all late-term abortions.

Americans tend to have little sympathy or support for the reasons most women seek an abortion. In a 2004 study, the Guttmacher Institute--an abortion-rights advocacy group whose data are considered the best on the issue and are cited by both sides in the debate--found that the two most common reasons given by women are that "having a baby would dramatically change my life" and "I can't afford a baby now." Both were mentioned by more than 70% of the 1,160 women surveyed. And yet numerous polls have found that most Americans say they think abortion should be illegal in those circumstances--a position that cannot be reconciled with their expressed support for Roe v. Wade. In a Pew poll last October, a majority of Americans said they supported legal abortion only in the case of rape, when the mother's life or health is endangered or when there is a strong chance of serious birth defect.

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