Pro-life groups seize on Trump call for federal late-term abortion ban

Students from St. Mary’s High School in Phoenix rally in this 2016 file photo at the annual March for Life in Washington. Pro-life advocates were thrilled by the election of President Donald Trump that year, and further pleased last week when he called for a ban on late-term abortions. (Photo by Danika Worthington/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – It was almost a throw-away line in a State of the Union address focused largely on border security and partisanship, but President Donald Trump’s call last week for a ban on late-term abortions got plenty of notice from pro-life groups.

“I think we were really encouraged to see the president raise the profile of this issue in one of the most public speeches of the year that a president makes,” said Jennifer Popik, the director of federal legislation at National Right to Life.

There were no details with Trump’s call on Congress “to pass legislation to prohibit the late-term abortion of children who can feel pain in the mother’s womb.” But a late-term, or “pain-capable,” abortion ban would likely mean a ban on the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy.

That would make little difference in Arizona, which already has some of the nation’s strictest abortion laws. But Cathi Herrod of the Center for Arizona Policy worries that won’t always be the case for the state, and said she would welcome federal legislation.

“My analysis of the Arizona Senate and the Arizona House today is that is it evenly divided on pro-life versus pro-abortion, and perhaps may be tilting pro-abortion,” said Herrod, whose organization lobbies for pro-life legislation in addition to other traditional family causes.

The way Herrod sees it, Arizona is just a couple of legislative votes away from being the next New York or Virginia – states that made headlines recently for bills to ease abortion restrictions. Critics seized on comments by Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam that Virginia law already allows late third-term abortions in exceptional cases – which Trump characterized in his State of the Union address as Northam saying “he would execute a baby after birth.”

Herrod worries that Arizona could start tilting toward pro-choice states like New York after the next election.

“The Arizona state legislature is very closely divided on the issue of abortion for this year and next year,” she said.

But Tayler Tucker, a spokeswoman at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona, said it will be a long time before Arizona is anywhere near a pro-choice state.

“We, unfortunately, are named one of the most pro-life states in the United States because we have quite a few abortion restrictions on the books,” Tucker said.

-Cronkite News video by Alyssa Klink

Those include requirements that women seeking an abortion have an in-person counseling session 24 hours before they can return to have the procedure, meaning they have to make at least two trips to the doctor. They are also required to get an ultrasound and be given the opportunity to look at the image, and minors must get parental consent for an abortion.

Congress has taken up the issue of late-term and “pain capable” abortions – when pro-life groups argue that a fetus can feel pain – several times in recent years. Some of those efforts, often led by former Arizona Rep. Trent Franks, a Glendale Republican, passed the House but stalled in the Senate.

Tucker thinks Trump’s proposal has little chance for passage now that the House is in Democratic hands.

“I think that there isn’t a lot of movement that can happen … at our current moment, with the House being held majority Democrat, and majority of those being pro-choice Democrats,” she said.

While Congress may not get involved, the Supreme Court likely will.

The court last week voted 5-4 to halt a Louisiana law that would require doctors who provide abortions to have admitting privileges at a local hospital.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who normally sides with conservatives on the court, sided with the court’s liberals to keep the law on hold. But the case is likely to find its way back to the court next year, and Roberts could well side with the conservatives then.

Herrod and Tucker agree on one thing: Little change is likely in Arizona in the next few years. But Tucker said the fight is not going to go away.

“Abortion is either going to be safe or it’s not going to be safe,” she said. “It’s going to be legal or it’s not going to be legal. It’s still going to happen.”