Every year, our friends at Americans United for Life release their Life List, which ranks every state in our nation on how well they protect the sanctity of human life, from conception to natural death. Arkansas came in first place this year after it enacted 16 life-affirming laws this past year. North Carolina sits in the middle of the pack at 28th.
To unpack AUL’s Life List and share how North Carolina can move up the rankings in the coming year, we welcome Katie Glenn to this week’s episode of Family Policy Matters. Glenn serves as AUL’s Government Affairs Counsel.
“We don’t rank states just on abortion policy,” says Glenn. “But we look at health and safety protections, bioethics in research and reproductive technology, rights of conscience, and protecting the vulnerable at the end of their lives against assisted suicide and euthanasia.”
Glenn discusses how several states have moved in their rankings since last year, including Montana, which jumped up a dozen spots after the 2020 election ended a 16-year gridlock in their state government. But North Carolina came in at 28th, the same spot we held on last year’s List.
“North Carolina has some really good laws that have been on the books for a long time,” says Glenn, such as the Woman’s Right to Know Act and the ban on telemed abortions. But due to political division between the Republican-led General Assembly and Democratic Governor Cooper, numerous new pro-life measures have failed to become law, including the Human Life Nondiscrimination Act/No Eugenics and the Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act.
“Hopefully, if you get some favorable outcomes this fall [in the election], next year you could come back and pass more life-affirming laws. But it’s just been a tough couple of years politically, and I think that sort of stalled North Carolina, at least on our rankings.”
Tune in to Family Policy Matters this week to hear Katie Glenn unpack AUL’s Life List, and outline where North Carolina stands for life and how we can improve.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. For the second year in a row, North Carolina was ranked 28th in the U.S. in the list of pro-life states on Americans United for Life’s annual “Life List.” The rankings consider a wide range of policies affecting the lives of the unborn, the elderly, the disabled, and the terminally ill. Arkansas was ranked number one after enacting a remarkable 16 life-affirming laws, leading the nation in 2021, a year that saw at least 85 pro-life state laws enacted across the country.
Well, Katie Glenn serves as Government Affairs Counsel at Americans United for Life, where she works with legislators and pro-life and pro-family groups to enact pro-life laws at the state and federal level. She’s here to help us unpack this year’s rankings, and what pro-life North Carolinians can do to help our standing in future years.
Katie Glenn, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
KATIE GLENN: Thank you so much.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright, start, if you would, by briefly explaining how you determine your Life List.
KATIE GLENN: Sure. So, we are a whole life organization, as you mentioned. We don’t rank states just on the abortion policy; we’ve actually looked at how it might change our rankings if we only focused on that. But we look at health and safety protections, bioethics in research and reproductive technology, rights of conscience, and protecting the vulnerable at the end of their lives against assisted suicide and euthanasia. We have point value assessed on each of these—like little pieces of each of these topics—and then we rank them up and we run it every single year. So, we’ve been doing this I think for about a dozen years now.
We’re very focused right now on the issue areas where we are experts, so these are very tied to healthcare. We’ve looked at some of the broader things of what it means to have a culture of life, so pregnancy center support, resources for pregnancy and parenting, women and families, but for now we’re very focused on the laws. And in fact, states don’t get credit for laws that are enjoined. So, I think after hopefully we have a very positive outcome in the Supreme Court this summer, the rankings could completely change.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Well, tell us about some of the states that saw some really big leaps in their ranking.
KATIE GLENN: Well, we know elections have consequences; we definitely saw that in 2021. The state with the biggest jump was Montana; they had gridlocked government for 16 years. In 2020, the Republicans won the governor’s mansion, they won the legislature, and they passed six substantive pro-life laws. So they jumped a dozen spots in our list. They passed prohibitions on telemedicine and chemical abortion; they protected infants born alive during an abortion; and they were one of the only states that had abortion throughout pregnancy—they passed a law that would limit it at 20 weeks based on the child’s ability to feel pain. So that was our biggest jump.
New Hampshire, similarly, they were another state that for a long time has had it on the books that you could have an abortion throughout pregnancy, and they passed a 24-week law and got it signed by their pro-choice Republican governor. So those were some of our biggest success stories last year.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Is there a pivotal pro-life legislation that you’re seeing across states that really seems to be making a huge difference?
KATIE GLENN: This year, I think the biggest thing we’re seeing is states really laser-focused on what if we are not stopped by Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey? What if we can limit abortions to when the child has a heartbeat or throughout pregnancy? Wyoming’s governor signed a conditional law yesterday that would limit—currently they have abortion for the first 24 weeks of pregnancy. If that law is able to go in effect later this year, they will have virtually no abortions in their state. So, I think the laws we’re seeing that are poised to have the biggest effect long term aren’t currently in effect, and that’s something we haven’t necessarily been able to say in previous years, but because that we’ve all got an eye to the Supreme Court, I think that are really going to change.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Is this what you’re seeing the most from the U.S. Supreme Court’s consideration of the Dobbs case? That states are beginning to look toward what will happen if Roe v. Wade is overturned?
KATIE GLENN: Yeah, absolutely. I think that is the biggest thing that states are really looking at is what if we have the authority to regulate abortion throughout pregnancy, not just in the second half, like Planned Parenthood v. Casey requires? The other big thing that North Carolina is actually very well set up for is that FDA decision from December of 2021, where they said doctors no longer have to dispense the abortion pill in person. Under North Carolina law, doctors still do, so you’re actually set up much better than many other states that do not require that under state law, but are now rushing to get that done since the FDA is not going to enforce their rules.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Do you have any general ideas as to if the Dobbs case goes the way of pro-lifers, which states are going to be in the best position?
KATIE GLENN: The states that have life in the state constitution, I think, will be the best settled, because their state constitution already says, “We protect life throughout pregnancy.” And so they are just waiting for that to take effect. Right behind that are going to be those states that have passed what we call conditional laws—the other side calls it a trigger law—but a law that is conditioned upon the court handing that authority back. Right behind them is going to be states with laws like heartbeat—South Carolina passed that last year—those states that are limiting abortion much earlier in pregnancy and drawing attention to things like the fact that a child’s heart is beating and we can see it on an ultrasound as early as six weeks, really humanizing the child. So those are going to be the states in the best position, but we think everybody else can catch up quickly.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We all know that passing laws is not going to completely do away with abortion; it’s certainly not going to change people’s hearts overnight. But talk a little bit about how pro-life laws do impact people in their minds and their hearts on this very important issue, particularly about abortion.
KATIE GLENN: Yeah. One of my dear friends, Dr. Michael New at Catholic University has done great research showing the impact that pro-life laws have in changing people’s behavior. Most of us are not law breakers at heart, so if something is prohibited, we’re going to seek out other alternatives. As much as we in the pro-life movement, through our churches and through communities, can help provide those alternatives and resources to women—many of whom are feeling forced into these abortions—we can save lives and we can help these women. Texas, alongside passing their heartbeat law last year, allocated $100 million dollars for alternatives to abortion. That gets almost no attention; most people don’t know about it, but they said, “You know, we know there will still be women in unexpected pregnancies, and we’re going to walk alongside them.” So they’re working with local partners, they’re working with private partners, nonprofits, churches, community organizations, to help those women.
There’s also a body of research that shows that when abortion is off the table, people make smarter decisions. The sexual revolution tried to decouple casual sex from its natural consequence, which is human reproduction, and they said, “If you don’t want to be pregnant, you don’t have to be pregnant.” But at our core, we understand how babies are made, and people make better decisions and safer decisions if abortion isn’t seen as this out. So if a dozen or 20 states in the next year or two pass laws where they have virtually no abortions in their state, people are going to make better smarter decisions. And the pro-life movement is going to be there to help and support these women and families.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: You guys really make sure that you’re also including information and policies about the elderly, the disabled, and the terminally ill. Are there certain states that seem to do better at these categories?
KATIE GLENN: Most states do prohibit euthanasia and assisted suicide. They realize that this degrades the medical profession; it changes it from healing to killing. They realize that there’s no ethical way to kill a person. So, there’s no ethical way to assist in a suicide, and so over 40 states actually do prohibit this. The Supreme Court has said that they can, and we encourage them to not just keep that law in the book, but provide better resources through hospice and palliative care for our elderly family and friends and neighbors so that they don’t feel alone. That’s really one of our priorities, especially as we come out of this pandemic to say, “Look at the sacrifices that many of us have made to care for those who are more vulnerable to this disease.” How could we put that to the side and push them towards suicide; it just doesn’t make sense.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Let’s talk a little bit more about North Carolina. So, our ranking stayed the same this year over last: 28th place. Talk a little bit about what that means for us.
KATIE GLENN: Well, I know that North Carolina has some really good laws that have been on the books for a long time, and y’all have had a tough couple of years with Governor Cooper, who vetoed the prenatal nondiscrimination law that would protect babies on the basis of race, sex, and a fetal diagnosis of Down Syndrome last year. Additionally, there’s an ongoing legal challenge to several of your informed consent laws, and we’re hoping that’s dismissed this summer so we can give y’all credit for those laws that you’ve passed. Hopefully, if you’ve got some favorable outcomes this fall, next year, you could come back and pass more life-affirming laws. But it’s just been a tough couple of years politically, and I think that sort of stalled North Carolina, at least on our rankings.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What are the strongest pro-life policies currently in place in North Carolina, would you say?
KATIE GLENN: I think the first one is that y’all do have a 20-week, pain capable law. Believe it or not, many states, including Florida where I live, permit abortion further than that, either at 24 weeks or viability or throughout pregnancy. So, that’s a really great thing. You’ve got very good laws on inspecting clinics. We did a 50-state overview of clinic inspections, and we got (unfortunately) tons of reports from North Carolina. So, your state has been actively inspecting those clinics and identifying problems and hopefully holding those businesses accountable for those problems.
You also make sure that North Carolina women are treated by North Carolina doctors. This is so important. Your laws prevent pill mills operating in other states either from coming to your state or from mailing drugs into your state, because you require that a woman not just see a doctor licensed in North Carolina, but also that that person oversees the entire procedure; they don’t just see her for five seconds, walk away, and then some nurse or some other employee is the one actually doing the abortion.
You also have good conscience laws that do protect doctors and nurses who don’t want to participate in abortion and protect institutions—so hospitals or other healthcare businesses—that don’t want to participate in abortion. So, it’s not all bad news. You’ve got a lot of good things, and I think, you know, we could see your ranking jump quite a bit next year.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So what about a gap? Do you look at North Carolina laws and see a glaring gap?
KATIE GLENN: I think the biggest gap is that North Carolina, like many states, hasn’t really regulated fetal tissue disposal or experimentation. It’s not regulating egg harvesting, destructive embryo research, or emerging reproductive technologies. This is something that sort of snuck up on many of us. So, I think that would be a great place to start, especially since you have major research universities in your state; it’s something to definitely pay attention to.
We are also encouraging every state to create private right of action means that a doctor, a nurse, or a pharmacist who is asserting their rights under that conscience law can file their own lawsuit. This sounds crazy, but under federal conscience laws, the Biden Administration gets to decide whether they want to pursue your case, and if they just say no, there’s nothing you can do about it. You don’t have a private right of action to file a lawsuit. So, that’s something we’re really encouraging states to do at the state level, so that if you run into that problem, God forbid, in the workplace, you can stand up for yourself.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: We’re just about out of time. Before we go, Katie Glenn, where can our listeners go to learn more about the positive pro-life policies being considered and passed around the nation and to take a look at your Life List?
KATIE GLENN: You can find everything you need to know about North Carolina and every other state at aul.org.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Alright. Katie Glenn with Americans United for Life, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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