By Linda Feldmann, writer of The Christian Science Monitor
The Christian Science Monitor
'IT was not my grandmother who was refused a toilet in a service station, it was I who was refused a toilet and told to go behind the service station," Faye Wattleton said in her Senate testimony opposing Associate Justice Clarence Thomas's Supreme Court nomination.
"That is what I was expected to do as a child traveling through the South with my parents."
Ms. Wattleton, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America since 1978, approaches the battle to preserve abortion rights with the same sense of offense: Just as blacks have suffered at the hands of society simply because of skin color, so have women suffered simply because biology dictates they are the ones who will bear children, she says.
Forcing a woman to carry through with an unwanted pregnancy, Wattleton says, denies that woman the ability to control her own body. And although the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling established abortion as a constitutionally guaranteed right, today's more conservative Supreme Court may overturn that ruling. States would, again, have the right to ban abortion.
"Frankly, I consider it an affront to women to penalize and treat us as if we don't deserve full respect," Wattleton said in a Monitor interview. "It probably grows out of my own personal background and the social ethic of pride."
Wattleton began her career in the pre-Roe days, as a nurse specializing in maternal and infant health. It was while working at Harlem Hospital in New York and as a public health administrator that she saw first-hand what she calls "the tragedies of daily life," of women who suffered from self-inflicted or illegal abortions.
After seven years as executive director of the Planned Parenthood affiliate in Dayton, Ohio, Wattleton took the helm at national headquarters, which she has turned into one of the country's most vociferous supporters for keeping abortion legal. That identity hasn't completely pleased everyone in the ranks of the 75-year-old Planned Parenthood movement, whose mandate has always been the more broadly phrased "reproductive health care."
Wattleton's leading role in the pro-abortion rights movement has also opened Planned Parenthood to the charge from anti-abortion forces that the organization advocates abortion as just another method of birth control. This charge goes to the heart of the maelstrom over impending government regulations that will prohibit discussion of abortion in federally funded family-planning clinics.
Last week a majority of Congress voted to overturn the ban on abortion counseling. President Bush vetoed that decision, and Congress fell short of a two-thirds majority to overturn the veto. Thus, in about 90 days, the regulations will go into effect. But the debate over them is hardly over.
Advocates of the speech regulations argue that family-planning clinics are for birth control, not abortion. Wattleton argues that you can't separate the two issues.
"They are very tightly linked, because either a woman can control her fertility or she can't," she says. …