After Roe v. Wade was overturned in 2022, many states across the country started enacting pro-life legislation and restricting abortion access. These changes can be a lot to keep up with, but Americans United for Life (AUL) has compiled a ranked list of each state’s pro-life measures.
This week on Family Policy Matters, host Traci DeVette Griggs welcomes Danielle Pimentel, Policy Counsel at AUL, to discuss their Annual Life List and how North Carolina ranks compared to other states.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Thanks for joining us this week for Family Policy Matters. As Americans adjust to the world without Roe v. Wade, the primary front in the battle shifts to the individual states. One of America’s preeminent pro-life organizations, Americans United for Life, has released its annual life list ranking all 50 states on their life-related policy. Notably, North Carolina was the biggest mover on the 2024 list, gaining seven spots after taking decisive action on behalf of life. Danielle Pimentel, who serves as Policy Counsel at Americans United for Life, joins us today to discuss AUL’s life list 2024 rankings and what pro-life Americans can look forward to in the future. Danielle Pimentel, welcome to Family Policy Matters.
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Thank you so much. It’s a pleasure to be here.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So how long have you all been releasing AUL’s annual life list?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Almost 20 years now. So I believe the first time the list was published was in the early 2000s. And I think it’s just a way to see what the landscape is on life in the States. And it’s meant to be also as a tool per se to see, okay, how can I improve? And you know, how can we continue to build a life-affirming culture and efforts to see our ranking go up? So it’s really meant to be sort of a tool. And then also, just to kind of give an overview of the landscape when it comes to life issues in the States?
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: How has the reversal of Roe v. Wade changed the importance of these state-level policies?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Right, yeah, I mean, the states have. It’s become a battleground for sure, either at the legislatures or at the ballot box. You know, I think the reversal of Roe v. Wade really magnified the importance and the need for the pro-life movement to continue fighting for life at the state level. You know, we’re seeing, I mean, now that the abortion issue is returned back to the people in their elected representatives, as I stated earlier, states do have the ability now to protect life from conception. And so, and states have taken advantage of that, you know, there are many. I mean, I think now there’s over 20 states that protect life from 12 weeks gestation or earlier. And, of course, your great State of North Carolina is one of those states. So we’re seeing, you know, a lot of pro-life states put forth and successfully enact life-affirming laws, that at least 59 life-affirming laws were passed in 2023. And we’re also seeing some new challenges. So, as you mentioned, there’s definitely, you know, pro-abortion activists are seeking to expand abortion, you know, any chance that can get, and so we’re seeing things like ballot measures. Ohio is a recent example of that. New York and Maryland are facing ballot measures in this upcoming election season. So, we are definitely seeing some new challenges. But overall, I think after the reversal of Roe v. Wade, we’ve seen more pro-life victories. And I’m confident that we’ll continue to see more as the year goes on.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Now, if you listen to mainstream media, you think we’re losing this war. And we have seen some losses, of course, but in your perspective, if you take a step back and balance the two, do you feel like we’re gaining ground?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: No, I think we definitely are, and, you know, not just at the state level but also at the federal level. But speaking specifically to state policies. Now, as I mentioned, I mean, there are more states protecting life than there were a year ago, right and even two years ago, so when Dobbs overturned Roe v. Wade, obviously, there were states that had trigger laws, meaning they had laws that would come in into play if Roe v. Wade was ever overturned. So, there are many states that have trigger laws. But since then, there have been additional states that have enacted strong gestational limits. So we’re seeing victories like that, we’re seeing more support for pregnancy resource centers, we’re seeing the numbers of abortions decrease. South Dakota is a good example of that. They released their abortion reporting numbers just recently, and since it reported from 2022, but it showed since 2019, there was, I think, close to 70% Decrease in abortion. So we’re seeing the effectiveness of these policies that life-affirming states are passing, and we’re seeing the numbers of abortions decrease, we’re seeing more women choose life being empowered to choose life. So I really think that, like I said, there are definitely challenges, but we’re also seeing a lot of great strides for the pro-life movement.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: So why did North Carolina jump so much in the rankings this year?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Yes. As you mentioned, you guys moved up seven points, or whatever you call it. Last year in 2023, you were ranked as 28, so that’s near the bottom half, and now you’re 21 in our life list, so than half the top half. And so, a major reason behind why you all moved was because the legislature enacted a great law. The gist of it, you know, was to protect life at 12 weeks gestation, you know. The legislature was able to, of course, override the governor’s veto of that, which was just tremendous. There’s tons of things wrapped in that Lodge, you know, you know, informed consent protections for women seeking chemical abortions, things like that. So, overall, North Carolina just made tremendous strides for life with those bills. And you know, like I said, overriding the governor’s veto as well was just great to see. So, I mean, a lot of those things is why the state moved up seven points, which, again, as you mentioned, is the biggest mover on our life list. So, it’s not common that we see that so that was awesome to see for North Carolina. But mainly, I said, it was mainly because of the 12-week law and everything else that was wrapped within that with informed consent, chemical abortions, all of that.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Let’s talk about the states ahead of us. Who’s at the top of the list and why?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Arkansas and they’ve just done a great job. I mean, they’ve been at the top of our life list for four years. And it’s not just because of all the strong protections of life that they have had, you know, over the years, they’ve maintained their pro-life protections throughout the years. And they also just this past year enacted, I believe, nine new life-affirming laws in one legislative session. So, they’ve continually, throughout the years, maintained their existing protections, as well as enacted new pro-life protections., And so they have a lot of strong protections for women and preborn children in their state, a lot of support for medical professionals, of course, as well. And so, I mean, one of the main reasons as to why it’s so high up on our list box number one, there are several states, though, that are coming right underneath it like Mississippi, Louisiana, Oklahoma, they’re close behind Arkansas, but Arkansas has stayed up the top for the past four years.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: All right, you mentioned longevity. So what are some of the other criteria you’re looking at in evaluating states for this list?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Our life list ranking is based on criteria that scores the protections that a state has for human life from conception to natural death. And so some of those categories that we look at are, you know, abortion, legal recognition of, you know, unborn children, it could be, you know, bioethics, assisted suicide, and then patient care. And then also, the last one, I think, is health care rights of conscience. So those are kind of the main categories that we look at to score states based off of. And then, we also look at the cultural and political landscape and momentum. So that could be, you know, how effectively the state legislature is at enacting pro-life laws, you know, what the political landscape looks like, things like that, that we factor into our scoring. And so essentially, states will be awarded points based off that criteria. So they’ll only receive credit, though, under a certain category, if the law is enforceable. So if a law is not enforceable, but let’s say a state enacted a, you know, heartbeat law, but that’s currently enjoined, because of litigation, that would not be counted into their score, they are only going to be scored based of laws that are currently in effect. So basically, states are going to be awarded, you know, a certain amount of points under each category based off what type of protections they have under that category.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Based on those criteria. What are the areas still needing improvement here in North Carolina?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: I think, I mean, one of them is, and this is really for, for a lot of states, because I think when we think of pro-life topics, we mainly think of abortion, but you know, the pro-life topics are a lot broader than that. It also includes, you know, end-of-life topics as well, like assisted suicide. And so I think that’s one area, not just North Carolina, but many states can improve in terms of policies. It is really promoting the dignity of vulnerable individuals and individuals who are elderly, the disabled, or, you know, individuals that have a terminal illness.
So, you know, what we’re seeing across the states is a push to legalize physician-assisted suicide. And that’s basically where a physician prescribes lethal drugs to a patient, and the patient will self-administer those drugs to prematurely end their life. And there are currently 11 jurisdictions that have legalized physician-assisted suicide; North Carolina is not one of those, but something that can do is proactively defend and fight against this narrative that these pro-assisted suicide laws promote and really fight back and promote the dignity of individuals near the end of their life. Because people with disabilities, the elderly, their lives are worth living, you know, their lives are worth protecting, and they’re worth being treated with human dignity, and physician-assisted suicide does not do that. So we have model legislation, actually, on our website.
So something North Carolina could do is, you know, explicitly potentially ban assisted suicide because I don’t believe there’s anything right now on the books in North Carolina that would explicitly ban it. You don’t allow it, meaning you don’t have any law that legalizes it, but there isn’t a law that also specifically bans the practice. So there’s steps like that that North Carolina and other states can take that really corrects the narrative that we hear from the pro-assisted suicide advocates about individuals who may have a terminal illness or who may be elderly, etc. So, we have other bills too, that would ensure that patients who are at a hospital, you know, have certain rights that are being adhered to, for example, that they’re not having life-sustaining care removed from them, if they don’t want that if they want to keep receiving that treatment, they’re able to receive that treatment. A hospital can’t just take that away from them. It has to adhere to their rights and human dignity and all that. So, we have model legislation on our website that talks about that as well. But yeah, that’s one area I think North Carolina and other states could definitely develop when it comes to life issues is end of life issues, whether that’s banning assisted suicide or putting forth legislation that would combat assisted suicide policies in other states, or it could look like again, ensuring that people who are elderly are being taken care of that they have the right to being honored by hospitals or treatment centers, whatever it might be.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: How bad does it get in some of those states at the very bottom? Yeah, unfortunately,
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Yeah, unfortunately, not to call Vermont out. But Vermont is at the bottom of our list. And for those states that are at the bottom of the list, they virtually have no protections for life, whether it’s for unborn life or people near the end of their lives, there really are no protections. So Vermont, as an example, as I said, it’s number 50; they don’t really have any regulations on abortion whatsoever. So abortion is just allowed up through nine months of pregnancy; really, there are no regulations on that. And then, when it comes to end-of-life issues, Vermont is one of the states that has legalized physician-assisted suicide, and they actually don’t even require people to be residents of Vermont. So, someone from North Carolina could go to Vermont and receive these drugs; they also allow people to receive these drugs through telemedicine. So those are some things that factor into that scoring. And unfortunately, put states like Vermont at the bottom of the list, unfortunately. So North Carolina is doing very well compared to states like Vermont.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: What can we do as ordinary citizens to really make a difference in our own communities on these life-and-death issues? What’s your opinion on them?
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Yes, that’s a great question. And I think a lot of people want to get involved, but they don’t necessarily know how to. So one of the ways I would say if you want to be involved in and help promote a culture of life in your state is maybe looking for ways you can number one volunteer, you got a pregnancy resource center, or similar, you know, organization that supports mothers that supports families, maybe finding time to either volunteer, if you don’t have that time, maybe donate financially, or even just baby supplies, clothing, things like that, to help build that culture of life. Because really, pregnancy research centers, they’re on the frontlines, and they’re serving women, they’re serving women that are in very difficult situations. And they’re able to really provide these women with great services, often free services, and really help empower them to choose life. And so if you’re able to help out with a pregnancy resource center or support them in any way, I think that’s a great way to get involved in the pro-life movement.
Another way is to show up to public hearings and voice your opinion; I think many, many people don’t realize that you can go to public hearings when there’s a bill that’s being heard by the legislature that they want to pass, you know, residents can come members of the public can come, and you can voice your opinion on this legislation. So we’ll say there’s a pro-life bill that’s before your state legislature, you know, as a resident, you can go, you can tell your legislators if you do or do not want to pass, etc. And that’s why they’re there. They’re there to represent your interests and you’re their constituents. So it’s very persuasive when legislators see their constituents show up and advocate either for or against some kind of bill that they’re considering.
So, I would definitely recommend people getting involved in that way as well. If you’re able to, or even just contacting your legislators or you know, you can write them, but it always seems to be very persuasive when you can come in person if you if you’re able to, and you know, you’re able to testify and share a few minutes as to why or why not you think a bill should or shouldn’t be passed. So that’s another great way to be involved and get involved in the pro-life movement. And I think if you’re not just, you know, keep having conversations with family and friends, right about pro-life issues, you know, obviously with grace and with kindness, but also with speaking truth is always great that and I think that really helps change hearts and minds is just daily conversations and being able to have you know, that kind of civil discourse to.
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Before we go, Danielle Pimentel, tell us where we can go to keep up with the good work that you all are doing over there at Americans United for Life.
DANIELLE PIMENTEL: Yes, so you can check us out at AUL.org. Our life list is on our website; you can see some of what we do. We have our state spotlight which actually goes through each state and gives sort of a snapshot of the state’s political landscape when it comes to life issues. So we have those things on our website. We have our scholarship and all of that, so you can check us out there. We have a LinkedIn and Twitter, too. So you’re welcome to go to those to
TRACI DEVETTE GRIGGS: Danielle Pimentel, thank you so much for being with us today on Family Policy Matters.
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