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As abortion foes rally in Washington, hopes buoyed by increased clout

Buoyed by huge election gains for their allies, anti-abortion activists head into today's annual March for Life in Washington, D.C., sensing a prime opportunity in many states to rein in the broad abortion access established 38 years ago by the Roe v. Wade decision.

Foes of abortion gained strength in Congress, among state governors and in many legislatures, raising hopes among social conservatives for a broad surge of anti-abortion bills.

"We are seeing a cultural shift toward protecting life and rolling back the tide of unrestricted abortions," said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, in a statement ahead of Saturday's anniversary of the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Yoest and her allies have particularly high hopes for three types of bills under consideration in several states:

*Measures modeled after a Nebraska law passed last year that outlaws abortions after 20 weeks of pregnancy, based on the assertion that fetuses can feel pain after that point. That's a departure from the standards set by Roe, which allows states to limit abortions when there's a viable chance the fetus could survive outside the womb, generally between 22 and 24 weeks.

*Bills requiring women to have an ultrasound before an abortion. Some versions would also require doctors to describe the ultrasound image of the fetus to the woman.

*Laws prohibiting abortion coverage in health insurance plans offered by the new state exchanges that are to commence in 2014 under President Obama's health care overhaul. Five states passed such measures last year; more may follow suit.

In many states, prospects for passage of such measures are bright, although they may face court challenges. NARAL Pro-Choice America, a leading abortion-rights group, said there are now 29 anti-abortion governors, an increase of eight, including 15 in states where abortion opponents also control both legislative chambers.

"In those states in particular, there are almost no pro-choice checks and balances," said Donna Crane, NARAL's director of public policy.

In several states, Democratic governors who generally supported abortion rights were replaced by Republicans opposed to abortion, including the strategic swing states of Wisconsin, Michigan, Ohio and Pennsylvania.

In Pennsylvania, the Legislature is expected to convene hearings soon on why state agencies mishandled complaints about a Philadelphia abortion clinic run by a doctor now facing eight murder charges. A state GOP lawmaker, Sen. Jake Corman, said Friday he would introduce legislation providing for licensing and annual inspections of all abortion facilities in the state.

At the federal level, anti-abortion forces scored significant gains in the House of Representatives, and majority Republicans introduced two bills Thursday to toughen restrictions on taxpayer funding of abortions. One is aimed specifically at Obama's health care law; the other would establish a permanent, government-wide ban on federal subsidies for most abortions.

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