A guide to covering abortion issues

The national debate over abortion has boiled again as the 40th anniversary of Roe v. Wade approached. Fueling the controversy now is that some states are trying to ban abortions earlier in a woman’s pregnancy — within the first trimester. Advocates have said it’s essentially an attempt to outlaw abortions altogether. 

Why it matters

Religious belief drives much of the action and opinions on abortion, which continues to be one of the most emotional and divisive issues in the country. While federal legislation gets the most attention, state laws have been more likely to inspire the court rulings that have shaped current abortion laws.

Background

  • The anti-abortion group Americans United for Life offers a snapshot of U.S. Supreme Court decisions involving abortion.
  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America, an advocate of abortion rights, provides a fact sheet on U.S. Supreme Court rulings on abortion and reproductive rights, 1965-2007.
  • Read the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which includes links to Supreme Court and Circuit Court cases that have cited Roe v. Wade.

Reports and studies

The Alan Guttmacher Institute has this overview on abortion in the United States.

Polls

  • The website PollingReport.com has a variety of polls on abortion.
  • The Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life conducted a poll leading up to the 40-year anniversary of the Roe v. Wade ruling and found most Americans want to keep the decision from being overturned.

Articles

U.S. Supreme Court

The court hasn’t ruled on any major abortion cases since 2007 when it upheld the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act in Gonzales v. CarhartSome expect the court will eventually hear cases regarding fetal pain laws.

Federal regulations

The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 outlawed the late-term abortion procedure that involved removing the brain of a fetus and delivering the dead infant.

In terms of health care, women with insurance from the federal government cannot get federal funds to cover an abortion except in cases of rape or incest or when the woman’s life is in danger. The Affordable Care Act, which was upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012, separates abortion coverage from other funds in private plans.

State legislatures

Arkansas passed a 12-week abortion ban in February 2013.

In March 2013, the North Dakota legislature passed a “fetal heartbeat” abortion ban, which would make abortions illegal as soon as a heartbeat is dedicated–something that can happen within six weeks.  Some advocates say the bill essentially bans all abortions.

Mississippi House passed a bill that would require a doctor to be present when a woman takes the initial pill to induce an abortion.

See the Alan Guttmacher Institute overview of state abortion laws. Some highlights: In 39 states, a licensed physician must be the person to perform abortions. In 41 states, there are laws prohibiting abortions after a certain point in a woman’s pregnancy. In more than half of states, a woman must wait after receiving counseling before getting an abortion.

State-by-state information

National sources

Against abortion

  • Deirdre McQuade

    Deirdre McQuade is assistant director for policy and communications for the Pro-Life Secretariat of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

  • Russell D. Moore

    Russell D. Moore is president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. Contact through Carrie Kintz.

  • Jay Sekulow

    Jay Sekulow is chief counsel at the American Center for Law and Justice in Washington, D.C., a leading pro-life religious legal advocacy group that frequently litigates on behalf of religious groups.

  • National Right to Life Committee

    Jessica Rodgers is a spokeswoman for the National Right to Life Committee in Washington, D.C. Karen Cross is national political director.

  • Tony Perkins

    Tony Perkins is president of the Family Research Council, which works to foster “a culture in which human life is valued, families flourish, and religious liberty thrives.”

  • Penny Young Nance

    Penny Young Nance is CEO and president of Concerned Women for America, a women’s group committed to bringing biblical principles into all levels of public policy.

  • Troy Newman

    Troy Newman is president of Operation Rescue. The organization is known for buying and subsequently closing an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan., and it now uses the building as its headquarters.

    Contact: 316-841-1700.
  • Judie Brown

    Judie Brown is president and co-founder of the Catholic American Life League in Virginia, which promotes anti-abortion legislation. Contact Paul Rondeau.

  • Frederica Mathewes-Green

    Frederica Mathewes-Green, of Baltimore, is a columnist and Orthodox Christian. She is author of Real Choices: Listening to Women; Looking for Alternatives to Abortion (Conciliar Press, 1997). She is also a pro-life advocate. Contact her via the form on her website.

  • Allan Sawyer

    Allan Sawyer is president of the American Association of Pro Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, headquartered in Holland, Mich.

  • Paul T. Stallsworth

    The Rev. Paul T. Stallsworth is president of the Taskforce of United Methodists on Abortion and Sexuality and the editor of its magazine, Lifewatch. He lives in Whiteville, N.C.

  • Insight for Living

    Insight for Living is the Bible-teaching radio ministry of Chuck Swindoll dedicated to spreading the word of Christ through educational resources including significant scripture. Email through the website.

    Contact: 800-772-8888.
  • Eagle Forum

    Eagle Forum is a socially conservative group founded in 1972 by Phyllis Schlafly dedicated to offering resources that promote conservative and religious qualities in American livelihood such as public policy, government, family integrity and private enterprise. 

For abortion rights

  • Alexander C. Sanger

    Alexander C. Sanger, grandson of reproductive rights activist Margaret Sanger, is chairman of the International Planned Parenthood Federation. He wrote Beyond Choice: Reproductive Freedom in the 21st Century (Public Affairs, 2004).

  • Jennifer Dalven

    Jennifer Dalven is director of the ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project, which has been involved in the debate over health care workers refusing to provide services to women. Contact her through the media line.   

  • NARAL Pro-Choice America

    Ilyse Hogue is president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. The nonprofit advocacy group supports “near-universal contraception coverage.” The website lists affiliates around the country.

  • Debra Ness

    Debra Ness is president of the National Partnership for Women and Families, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization in Washington D.C., that works to promote quality health care for women, including access to abortion. Contact communications assistant Cindy Romero.

  • Rebecca Wind

    Rebecca Wind is press contact for the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a nonprofit organization in New York and Washington, D.C., focused on sexual and reproductive health research and policy analysis.

  • Planned Parenthood Federation of America

    Planned Parenthood Federation of America fights against legislation that limits access to abortions. Contact the media office.

  • Republicans for Choice

    Ann Stone heads Republicans for Choice in Alexandria, Va., which says its aim is to remove politics from the abortion debate.

  • Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice

    The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice in Washington, D.C., pushes for more health care options for women, not fewer. It sponsors a National Black Religious Summit on Sexuality each year. Michael Mitchell is director of communications.

  • Jon O’Brien

    Jon O’Brien is president of Catholics for Choice, which believes that the individual conscience should be the keystone for moral decision-making on reproductive rights matters and that affordable contraception should be available to all.

  • Medical Students for Choice

    Medical Students for Choice, based in Philadelphia, is a group formed by medical students in 1993 to make sure abortion procedures are taught in medical school.

  • Vicki Saporta

    Vicki Saporta is executive director of the National Abortion Federation in Washington, D.C., the professional association for abortion providers in North America.

Other

  • David E. Joseph

    David E. Joseph is senior vice president of operations at the Public Conversations Project, where he has facilitated dialogues between people and groups on opposing sides of the abortion debate.

By religion

Christian

  • The U.S. Council of Catholic Bishops has posted a statement supporting the Roman Catholic Church’s stand against abortion.
  • The Southern Baptist Convention’s statements on abortion are posted by the website Johnstonsarchive.net.
  • Read the United Methodist Church’s official statement on abortion.
  • See the Assemblies of God statement about the sanctity of human life.
  • ReligiousTolerance.org has a listing of statements on abortion from various faith groups and other organizations.

Jewish

Muslim

Abortion ministries

The website AfterAbortion.org offers a listing of people and ministries around the country that offer post-abortion counseling. The group behind the site lobbies both political parties to stop “coerced” abortions and support post-abortion therapy.

Regional sources

State-by-state

Abortion legislation in the states

Regional contacts for anti-abortion groups

  • Concerned Women for America, whose mission is to bring biblical principles into all levels of public policy, lists state chapters.
  • The National Right to Life Committee lists affiliates.

Regional contacts for groups that promote abortion rights

In the Northeast

  • Michele Dillon

    Michele Dillon is associate professor of sociology at the University of New Hampshire in Durham. She wrote “The American Abortion Debate: Culture War or Normal Discourse?” for the book The American Culture Wars: Current Contests and Future Prospects (University of Virginia Press, 1996). She is the author of Catholic Identity: Balancing Reason, Faith and Power.

  • Jack M. Balkin

    Jack M. Balkin is a constitutional law professor at Yale Law School and an expert on abortion policy and the First Amendment.

  • Phillip Levine

    Phillip Levine is the Katharine Coman and A. Barton Hepburn Professor of Economics at Wellesley College in Massachusetts. He wrote Sex and Consequences: Abortion, Public Policy, and the Economics of Fertility (Princeton University Press, 2004).

  • Laurence H. Tribe

    Laurence H. Tribe is the Carl M. Loeb University Professor of Constitutional Law at Harvard University. Tribe’s areas of expertise include abortion and church-state issues. He wrote the book Abortion: The Clash of Absolutes.

  • James Trussell

    James Trussell is a professor of economics and public affairs and faculty associate with the Office of Population Research at Princeton University in New Jersey. He has an expertise in abortion and advocates making emergency contraception widely available as a means of reducing unintended pregnancies and runs a website on the topic.

  • Clyde Wilcox

    Clyde Wilcox is professor of government at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C. He specializes in electoral behavior and public opinion and can comment on the Catholic vote, abortion, gun control, gay rights, church-state issues and other issues involving religion and politics. He wrote “Abortion, Gay Rights and Church-State Issues in the 2000 Campaign” for the book Religion and Liberal Democracy: Piety, Politics and Pluralism and he is the co-author of The Values Campaign? The Christian Right and the 2004 Elections.

  • Faye Ginsburg

    Faye Ginsburg is professor of anthropology at New York University. She wrote the book Contested Lives: The Abortion Debate in an American Community (University of California Press, 1998).

  • Jonathan E. Brockopp

    Jonathan E. Brockopp is associate professor of history and religious studies at Pennsylvania State University. He edited the book Islamic Ethics of Life: Abortion, War and Euthanasia, and he wrote an article on Shariah for the Encyclopedia of Islam and the Muslim World.

  • Rita Simon

    Rita Simon is university professor emerita of justice, law and society for the School of Public Affairs at American University in Washington, D.C. She wrote the book Abortion: Statutes, Policies and Public Attitudes the World Over (Praeger Publishers, 1998).

  • Judith Hauptman

    Judith Hauptman is professor of Talmud and Rabbinic culture at Jewish Theological Seminary of America in New York. She wrote the article “Abortion: Where We Stand” for the journal United Synagogue Review.

  • N.E.H. Hull

    N.E.H. Hull is a law professor at Rutgers University in Camden, N.J., and co-author of Roe v. Wade: The Abortion Rights Controversy in American History (University Press of Kansas, 2001).

  • Harvey Kornberg

    Harvey Kornberg is associate professor of political science at Rider University in Lawrenceville, N.J. He has expertise in abortion politics.

  • Marian Lief Palley

    Marian Lief Palley is a professor emerita of political science and international relations at the University of Delaware in Newark and an expert on abortion politics.

  • Susan Carroll

    Susan Carroll is senior scholar at Rutgers University’s Eagleton Institute of Politics at the Center for American Women and Politics in New Brunswick, N.J. and is also a professor of political science and women’s and gender studies. She is an expert on abortion politics.

  • Gerard Magill

    Gerard Magill is the Vernon F. Gallagher Chair for the Integration of Science, Theology, Philosophy, and Law at Duquesne University in Pittsburgh, where he also teaches health care ethics. He co-edited Abortion and Public Policy: An Interdisciplinary Investigation Within the Catholic Tradition (Creighton University Press, 1996).

  • Stanley M. Hauerwas

    Stanley M. Hauerwas is Gilbert T. Rowe Professor Emeritus of Divinity and Law at Duke Divinity School in Durham, N.C. He wrote “Why Abortion Is a Religious Issue” for the book The Church and Abortion: In Search of New Ground for Response.

  • Abdulaziz A. Sachedina

    Abdulaziz A. Sachedina is a coordinator of the Islamic bioethics group of the International Association of Bioethics and is a professor of Islamic studies at the University of Virginia in Charlottesville. He contributed the entry on bioethics for The Oxford Dictionary of Islam.

  • Alan Abramowitz

    Alan Abramowitz is a professor of political science at Emory University in Atlanta and an expert on abortion politics.

  • Neal Devins

    Neal Devins is a professor of law at the College of William and Mary in Williamsburg, Va. He is an expert on abortion law.

  • Simone M. Caron

    Simone M. Caron is chair of the history department at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. She has studied the history of abortion.

In the South

  • Nancy Maveety

    Nancy Maveety is an associate professor of political science at Tulane University in New Orleans. She specializes in women’s issues.

  • Martha I. Morgan

    Martha I. Morgan is a Robert S. Vance Professor Emerita of Law at the University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa. Her area of study is abortion rights.

  • Kevin Wildes

    The Rev. Kevin Wildes is president of Loyola University New Orleans. He wrote “The Sanctity of Human Life: Secular Moral Authority, Biomedicine and the Role of the State” for the book Sanctity of Life and Human Dignity.

  • Donald P. Judges

    Donald P. Judges is associate dean of graduate programs and experiential learning and a professor of law at the University of Arkansas in Fayetteville. He is an expert on the conflict over abortion rights.

  • Diane E. Wall

    Diane E. Wall is an associate professor emerita at Mississippi State University. She is an expert on women’s issues and the judiciary.

  • James Matthew Wilson

    James Matthew Wilson is assistant professor of political science at Southern Methodist University in Dallas. He wrote the article “Blessed are the Poor: American Protestantism and Attitudes Toward Poverty and Welfare” for the Southeastern Political Review (1999) and the paper “Moral Visions and the New American Politics” for the Cary M. Maguire Center for Ethics and Public Responsibility at Southern Methodist University (2003).

  • Robert M. Baird

    Robert M. Baird is a professor and chairman of the philosophy department at Baylor University in Waco, Texas. He co-edited the books Same-Sex Marriage: The Moral and Legal Debate, Caring for the Dying: Critical Issues at the Edge of Life, and The Ethics of Abortion: Pro-Life Vs. Pro-Choice.

In the Midwest

  • Charles E. Rice

    Charles E. Rice is professor emeritus at the University of Notre Dame law school in Indiana. He wrote the article “Abortion, Euthanasia and the Need to Build a New Culture of Life” for the Notre Dame Journal of Law, Ethics & Public Policy (1999).

  • Richard Duncan

    Richard Duncan is a law professor at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln and an expert on abortion law.

  • Daniel C. Maguire

    Daniel C. Maguire is a theology professor at Marquette University in Milwaukee and editor of Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions. He is also president of the Religious Consultation on Population, Reproductive Health and Ethics, a multifaith organization of religious scholars interested in reproductive health and other issues.

  • Virginia Sapiro

    Virginia Sapiro is a professor emeritus at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and an expert on gender politics.

  • Timothy R. Johnson

    Timothy R. Johnson is assistant professor of political science at the University of Minnesota in Minneapolis-St. Paul. He wrote the entry on Roe v. Wade for the Encyclopedia of American Religion and Politics (Facts on File, 2003).

  • Robert Spitzer

    The Rev. Robert Spitzer is president of the Michigan-based Spitzer Center, which provides resources for businesses and educational institutions of the Catholic faith.

In the West

  • Barbara Norrander

    Barbara Norrander is a political science professor at the University of Arizona in Tucson. She co-wrote the entry “Public Opinion and Policymaking in the States: The Case of Post-Roe Abortion Policy” for the book The Public Clash of Private Values: The Politics of Morality Policy (CQ Press, 1999).

  • Deborah R. McFarlane

    Deborah R. McFarlane is a professor in the department of political science at the University of New Mexico in Albuquerque. She co-wrote the book The Politics of Fertility Control.

  • Ted G. Jelen

    Ted G. Jelen is a professor of political science at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He has followed religion and politics, including the participation of the Catholic Church and the role abortion politics plays. He co-edited the books Abortion Politics in the United States: Studies in Public Opinion and The One, the Few and the Many: Religion and Politics in Comparative Perspective. He also co-wrote the book Between Two Absolutes: Public Opinion and the Politics of Abortion.

  • James C. Mohr

    James C. Mohr is a history professor at the University of Oregon in Eugene. He is a nationally recognized expert on the abortion issue and author of Abortion in America: The Origins and Evolution of National Policy (Oxford University Press, 1979). He writes that the abortion debate has become a symbolic focal point for a variety of social issues. As a result, abortion politics now has an influence in Congress, the federal judiciary and American foreign policy.

  • Carole Joffe

    Carole Joffe is a professor emeritus at the University of California, Davis. She wrote the article “Roe v. Wade at 30: What are the Prospects of Abortion Provision,” for the journal Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health (January 2003) and has written other articles examining abortion and morality.

  • John E. Seery

    John E. Seery is a professor of politics at Pomona College in California. He is an expert on abortion politics and wrote the article “Moral Perfectionism and Abortion Politics” for the journal Polity (2001).

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