How Much Money Do Republicans Waste Trying to Defend Anti-Abortion Laws?
I can’t blame woman for feeling their “right” to an abortion is hardly a right at all. After all, Republicans at the state and federal level love passing new laws designed to infringe on precisely that right. Even though many of these laws are destined to be struck down as unconstitutional, the perpetual fight is exhausting.
Beyond exhausting, it’s also costly. Recently, the people of North Dakota learned just how expensive these battles can be. The state’s 2013 fetal heartbeat law, considered one of the more egregious attacks throughout the country on pro-choice rights, has been bouncing around courts for quite some time.
To date, the state has racked up nearly half a million dollars in legal bills on this case that, at some level, North Dakota had to know was never going to end in its favor. That’s a lot of money for a state with a budget that’s currently $1 billion short following a decline in the price of oil.
“That’s it, we’re done paying bills,” said North Dakota Attorney General Wayne Stenehjem after paying the final settlement for the fetal heartbeat case. If I had to guess, though, I doubt this will be the last time North Dakota has to pay large sums of money to settle a case of this sort.
You see, legislators continue to pass these laws – even laws they can be pretty confident will be struck down as unconstitutional – because they’re popular with conservative constituents. Lawmakers want to symbolically prove that they’re anti-abortion, even if it’s not ultimately in a meaningful way.
Still, voters might be less impressed with these symbolic gestures if they knew how much states were paying in their attempts to defend them in court. Lawmakers and interest groups sure aren’t footing the bills, these are taxpayer dollars going to pay the attorneys – and often times the plaintiff’s attorneys, too.
While attorney generals will often try to downplay the costs of these cases, I was able to find some examples that show North Dakota is in “good” company when it comes to flushing money down the drain in this manner:
In 2012, private attorneys billed Kansas over $625,000 attempting to defend a bunch of hasty anti-abortion laws that legislators in the state had approved. One law firm received $327,000 to fight against Planned Parenthood’s lawsuit after the organization had been defunded by the state.
Another firm received about $300,000 to defend laws that increased supposed “safety regulations” for doctors who perform abortions as well as to take on an ACLU lawsuit against a law that forbidden private insurance companies from covering abortions for fetuses doctors thought could be carried to term.
From 2012-2013, Texas blew close to $650,000 on various legal battles attempting to chip away at a woman’s right to access abortions. Most of these laws were penned by Americans United for Life (AUL) and handed to lawmakers to push through the legislature.
Ultimately, it’s not the AUL that had to pay to fight the legal battles (though I’m sure they’ve spent a lot of money in donations to the lawmakers who put forth their bills): it’s the taxpayers. AUL has whined a lot about the taxpayer money going toward Planned Parenthood, yet doesn’t seem to have a problem with taxpayers footing the bill to defend their dubiously constitutional ideas.
When Idaho decided to prosecute a woman who performed an “illegal” abortion on herself after the state banned terminating a pregnancy at 20 weeks, it wound up paying dearly for this prosecution. Altogether, the state paid $1 million, including the woman’s attorney fees for going after her on unconstitutional grounds.
The costly battle to keep the 20-week abortion ban alive also eventually ended in defeat in appeals court.
South Dakota has had to pay so much in legal fees and settlements for dumb anti-abortion legislation that it actually started planning ahead for it. In 2011, Governor Dennis Daugaard expanded the state’s “Extraordinary Litigation Fund” by over $1 million, aware that its ongoing legal battles with Planned Parenthood was ultimately going to cost the state.
A previous loss to Planned Parenthood in court left the state on the hook for $410,000 in attorney fees for PP alone. I guess it makes sense to allocate the money for these losses in advance.
Unless the faces on the Supreme Court change and a new ruling overturns Roe v. Wade, most of these fights are pretty fruitless. Conservatives like to pound their fists about fiscal responsibility, but here’s one area where they are happy to conveniently ignore just how much taxpayer money they’re wasting.
Photo credit: Thinkstock