ATLANTA (AP) — Republicans around the U.S. see no immediate hope of overturning the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 landmark decision legalizing abortion, but they are increasingly pushing legislation to restrict the procedure. The issue looms in the 2014 elections for seats in Congress and in statehouses.
Republicans are pursuing a range of ideas: banning nearly all abortions beyond the 20th week after conception; requiring women to get ultrasounds before terminating a pregnancy; making abortion clinics follow regulations for surgical care; mandating that clinic physicians have admitting privileges at local hospitals.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, which works on reproductive health issues, states this year have enacted at least 43 new laws that restrict or further regulate abortion.
The issue, one of the most politically sensitive in the country, also is prominent in early 2016 maneuvering for the race to succeed President Barack Obama.
The abortion issue energizes social conservatives who drive the Republican Party's success in nonpresidential years when the electorate is older, whiter and more conservative.
But Democrats and abortion-rights advocates say moderate voters have other priorities.
"Defense workers are being furloughed, student loan interest rates have doubled and these Republicans insist on a relentless pursuit of more restrictions on women's freedoms," said Rep. Steve Israel, chairman of the Democrats' national congressional campaign committee for 2014.
The House of Representatives adopted a 20-week abortion ban in June. It has no chance of passing the Democratic-run Senate or being signed into law by President Barack Obama. A top anti-abortion lobbyist, National Right to Life Committee president Carol Tobias, told The Associated Press that her organization is working on a Senate bill with the office of Republican Sen. Marco Rubio, who is a high-profile possibility for the 2016 presidential race.
Texas Gov. Rick Perry called his Republican legislature back into special session to consider a 20-week ban and sweeping regulatory changes after Democratic maneuvers — including a half-day speech that drew international attention — temporarily blocked the measure. The legislature passed the bill Friday, and it's headed to Perry's desk.
Opponents of the abortion legislation are expected to sue to block implementation.
Polls on abortion have long suggested nuanced divisions in public opinion. In a May Gallup poll, 26 percent of Americans said the procedure always should be legal; 20 percent said outlaw it in all cases. Fifty-two percent said it should legal under some circumstances, implying acceptance of legal restrictions. Yet fewer — 42 percent — feel it's morally defensible to end a pregnancy, while 49 percent said it's morally wrong.
In a Pew Research Center poll in January, 41 percent said Democrats better represent their views on abortion; 36 percent opted for Republicans on the issue.
The Supreme Court holds that states can ban most abortions at the point a fetus could survive outside the womb. The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says viability occurs about 24 weeks from the start of a pregnancy and that the most comprehensive study of fetal pain "concluded that fetal perception of pain is unlikely before the third trimester," which begins with week 28.
The Republican Party's analysis of the 2012 presidential election loss didn't mention abortion. But it acknowledged characterizations of the party as "narrow minded" and "out of touch."
But a top anti-abortion lobbyist, National Right to Life Committee president Carol Tobias, promised the issue won't go away any time soon.
Associated Press writers Bill Barrow in Atlanta and Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina, and AP Polling Director Jennifer Agiesta in Washington contributed to this report.
Copyright 2013 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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