NRL News
Page 7
February 2009
Volume 36
Issue 2

Reflecting on 20 Years of State Legislative Achievements
By Liz Townsend

When Mary Spaulding joined NRLC in 1989, the state legislation department had just been formed. In the wake of the Supreme Court’s Webster decision, pro-lifers were hopeful that many states could pass pro-life legislation that would survive an often overtly hostile Supreme Court.

Twenty years later—along with marriage to fellow NRLC staffer Burke Balch and two children—Mary Spaulding Balch continues to provide state right to life groups with the tools they need to establish laws that will protect unborn babies and their mothers.

Balch began her pro-life work as a senior in college. She began her legislative work  with an internship in the New York State Assembly and later as legislative counsel to pro-life New Hampshire Sen. Gordon J. Humphrey. “I’ve always been involved in state legislation,” she told NRL News. “When the NRLC job opened up, it was just what I wanted to do.”

The first set of bills introduced in states after the Webster decision had to do with parental involvement and women’s right to know. Eventually, states would tackle other abortion issues, such as banning partial-birth abortion, restricting funding, and regulating abortion facilities. Recent bills have sought to require women’s access to ultrasound images before abortion, provide for funding for abortion alternatives, and ban coercion of women.

“There haven’t been many changes in how we work, although the types of bills have evolved,” Balch said. “Some states get better over time, such as when they elect a pro-life governor, while there have been setbacks in others. But we never give up on any of them.”

The support provided to states by the department is comprehensive. Assisted by Ingrid Duran and Jennifer Popik, J.D., Balch drafts model legislation, provides support material and talking points, and helps state lobbyists during floor debate with potential language and amendments.

“We’ve gone into states for direct support when necessary,” Balch said. “We’re there for state affiliates in whatever they need. We try to figure out what subject will move the course forward, depending on where the state is. We always try to push but not to set ourselves up for failure.”

Groundwork done when the political climate in a state is not welcoming for pro-life legislation can pay off later. “Oklahoma was not able to do anything for a while,” Balch explained. “But it’s had the best run in the last few years. The legislature even overrode the governor’s veto of a comprehensive pro-life bill.” It was the first time a governor’s veto had been overridden since 1994.

Looming on the horizon, however, is President Barack Obama’s promise to sign the so-called “Freedom of Choice Act” (FOCA). Such a bill would be devastating for state legislative efforts. “FOCA would have the most disastrous impact,” Balch said. “If FOCA became law, everything we’ve done on the state level would be undone with a stroke of the pen.”

FOCA would nullify virtually all state limits on abortion, including laws requiring parental involvement, women’s right to know laws, conscience clauses, physician-only requirements, funding restrictions, and more. Balch urged pro-lifers to work hard to bring the message to the people about the devastating effects of FOCA.

“There must be a groundswell of opposition,” she said.

The years of work by pro-lifers in their states have helped grow the opposition to abortion on demand. Laws dealing with partial-birth abortion and ultrasound access have helped to open the debate beyond the false rhetoric of “choice” and bring the babies themselves into the debate.

“With ultrasound, the unborn baby is so clearly a member of the human family, so clearly alive, so clearly what we are talking about,” Balch explained. “It makes it obvious that this is a child whose life is on the line. That is what the pro-life movement is all about.”