NEW YORK: Persistent Republican-led efforts to restrict access to abortion and to curb government funding for Planned Parenthood have been hotly debated in Washington and in states, and will be shaped in some way by the next president.
WHERE THEY STAND
Democrat Hillary Clinton supports access to abortion and is an outspoken defender of Planned Parenthood, which is the largest provider of abortions in the US and also offers other health services. Republican Donald Trump, who in the past was a supporter of abortion rights, now says he isn’t, although he’s been somewhat inconsistent in his campaign statements on abortion. Numerous anti-abortion leaders, initially wary of Trump, now support him because of his pledge to nominate Supreme Court justices who are open to curtailing abortions and his choice of Mike Pence, a staunch abortion foe, as his running mate.
WHY IT MATTERS
The prime battleground over abortion is the Supreme Court, which regularly confronts legal challenges on the issue. The next president has one vacancy to fill on the high court and could have more. A Clinton victory could strengthen the court’s current 5-3 majority that supports abortion rights. A Trump win could lead to a reconfigured court that would uphold tough state laws restricting abortion and possibly consider overturning Roe v. Wade, the 1973 decision that established a nationwide right to abortion. Advocates on both sides have singled out the presidential election as the key to where the issue goes next.
In June, the Supreme Court issued its most important abortion decision in many years, striking down restrictions in Texas that required doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at nearby hospitals and forced clinics to meet hospital-like building standards. The court held that this placed an “undue burden” on women seeking abortion because it would force closure of many clinics.
In the future, the court is likely to face the question of whether other types of abortion restrictions impose an undue burden. One example: laws adopted by numerous states that ban most abortions after 20 weeks of gestation on the disputed premise that a fetus can feel pain at that stage.
Republicans in Congress voted to impose a 20-week ban nationwide, but it was blocked by Senate Democrats. If Democrats gain more Senate seats in November, that would make federal anti-abortion legislation even less likely. Congressional Republicans also have sought to halt federal money to Planned Parenthood. Most of that money goes to provide non-abortion services to low-income women.
A Clinton presidency would be expected to carry on President Barack Obama’s opposition to such defunding attempts, with veto power to back it up. Trump says he’d support the stripping of federal financing from Planned Parenthood, though he also has made positive comments in the past about the importance of the organization’s non-abortion services. States, too, have sought to curtail public money for Planned Parenthood over the past year – blocked by courts in some cases, but elsewhere forcing Planned Parenthood to curtail some contraceptive services, health screenings and other programs.
Federal law, and the laws of most states, already prevent public money from paying for abortions except in rare circumstances. The recent defunding bills prohibit state money for any services by organizations that also provide abortions. Public opinion on abortion is sharply divided, and has barely shifted in recent decades. The latest Gallup poll on the topic finds 50 percent of Americans say abortion should be legal under certain circumstances, 29 percent want it legal in all cases and 19 percent want it outlawed in all cases – roughly the same breakdown as in the 1970s. – AP