Magazine article The American Prospect

Reproductive Emergency

Magazine article The American Prospect

Reproductive Emergency

Article excerpt

Life is one long emergency for most advocacy groups--whose members are apt to be united by the belief that they're besieged. To an outsider who lacks their political passions, however, they seem less besieged than overwrought. So casual supporters of abortion rights may be unimpressed when the National Organization for Women (NOW) declares an official state of emergency in the battle over reproductive choice. The "Emergency Action for Women's Lives," targeting the U.S. Senate, is being launched with an April 22 rally in Washington, D.C. So far, this campaign doesn't seem to have generated much excitement or publicity. But the more you know about threats to choice, the more you share NOW's sense of urgency.

A majority of Americans support abortion rights, but rather queasily, and the anti-abortion and pro-choice movements have been stalemated for several years. Pro-choicers narrowly defeated efforts to criminalize particular abortion procedures (in the guise of bans on mythical "partial birth" abortions), and they recently won a Supreme Court decision striking down the nonconsensual drug testing of pregnant women. But over the years, restrictions on minors' rights have been upheld, along with restrictions on the use of public funds to finance abortions and on the rights of publicly funded doctors even to talk about abortion with their patients.

Attacks on the basic constitutional right to obtain an abortion outlined by Roe v. Wade have failed, just barely, but access to abortion has &dined: Violence against abortion providers is a strong disincentive to doctors, and many are no longer being trained to perform abortions anyway. In Massachusetts a major Boston hospital has shut down a late-term-abortion program that served women who needed to terminate pregnancy after 14 weeks because of serious health problems. "This is reminiscent of the problems of 30 years ago," the chief of obstetrics and gynecology at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center told The Boston Globe. Anti-abortion activists have managed to make the legality of abortion irrelevant for many women by making the availability of abortion scarce.

This bad situation is about to get worse. Encouraged by the ascension of George W. Bush, anti-abortion activists are renewing their efforts to erode reproductive rights incrementally. They're already tasting victory: The new president, grateful and obliged to opponents of abortion rights, moved swiftly to deny U.S. aid to international family-planning agencies that merely provide abortion counseling. President Bush also favors stringently limiting access to mifepristone (RU-486), which the FDA recently approved; and Secretary of Health and Human Services Tommy Thompson has signaled his willingness to order a new review of the drug. Along with other anti-abortion bills recently reintroduced by Republicans, Congress is considering placing limits on RU-486.

The federal Unborn Victims of Violence Act exemplifies the strategy of destroying reproductive choice without ever attacking it directly. Drafted with the assistance of the National Right to Life Committee and introduced in Congress by two Republicans, Representative Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Senator Mike DeWine of Ohio, this bill would make it a federal crime to injure or kill a fetus during an attack on a pregnant woman, at any stage of fetal development (and even if the attacker were unaware of the pregnancy). It's not a novel concept. …

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