Washington Post (U.S.),
Abortion rights activists get ready for another year of challenges
By Peter Slevin
CHICAGO -- Supporters
of a woman's right to choose an abortion had reason to feel confident
a year ago, with a newly elected Democratic president whose party
controlled the House and the Senate.
But not long after
President Obama lifted a ban on U.S. funding for international
health groups that support abortion, a gunman killed the nation's
most prominent abortion doctor, George Tiller. And by year's end,
congressional majorities voted to limit access to abortion coverage
in proposed health-care reform legislation. The fact that an antiabortion
Michigan Democrat won the day stunned abortion-rights advocates.
"We think the
potential now for even more mischief and more attacks on pro-choice
politics is very, very evident," said Nancy Keenan, president
of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "The other side is really going
to attack on every front. They're just emboldened."
The new year finds
the opposing political forces at loggerheads once more, as both
sides prepare for health-care negotiations and events surrounding
the 37th anniversary, on Jan. 22, of the Supreme Court's Roe v.
Wade decision that legalized abortion.
The federal fight over
health care is "the primary focus of all the mainstream pro-life
movements," said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of
the National Right to Life Committee. At the state level, activists
are dueling over a fresh batch of antiabortion ballot initiatives
and midterm candidacies.
All eyes on Kansas
In Kansas this week,
jury selection will begin in the first-degree murder case against
Scott Roeder, who is accused of killing Tiller in his Wichita
church on May 31. Soon after the killing, Tiller's family closed
his clinic, a long-standing refuge for women and a site of daily
protests that often turned bitter.
Sedgwick County District
Judge Warren Wilbert ruled Friday that attorneys for Roeder can
argue that he shot Tiller to protect the lives of unborn babies
-- and, therefore, could be guilty of voluntary manslaughter instead
of first-degree murder.
The judge said Roeder
could not argue that the killing was actually justified but rather
that he had an unreasonable but honest belief that the circumstances
justified deadly force.
While Roeder's supporters
welcomed the ruling, one major abortion rights group condemned
it. "Allowing an argument that this cold-blooded, premeditated
murder could be voluntary manslaughter will embolden anti-abortion
extremists and could result in 'open season' on doctors across
the country," Katherine Spillar, executive vice president
of the Feminist Majority Foundation, warned in a statement.
groups have denounced the slaying as the act of a disturbed figure
on the far fringe of society and political life. Johnson said
the National Right to Life Committee condemns "in the most
unequivocal ways violent activity."
"Most people recognize
that individuals like that can crop up and associate themselves
with any kind of cause," Johnson said. He added that the
Roeder case, however prominent, would have no influence on the
abortion component of the health-care debate in Congress.
From Hill, 'a wake-up
It was a vote last
year in Congress, where the action over abortion had become less
intense than in many statehouses, that startled and dismayed abortion
rights forces. A provision sponsored by Rep. Bart Stupak (D-Mich.)
would prevent women who receive federal insurance subsidies from
buying insurance that pays for abortions.
"The Stupak amendment
was a wake-up call, and a big surprise to people all over the
country who . . . generally thought that the basic right was in
place and basic access was secure," said Marcia Greenberger,
co-president of the National Women's Law Center.
If Congress approves
a health-care bill and Obama signs it into law, the new legislation,
in whatever form it takes, will probably leave significant decisions
to the states, where activists and organizations on both sides
are preparing to mobilize.
things will change in a variety of ways," Greenberger said.
"And the whole question about coverage for abortion services
has been put in the spotlight in a way that it never has been
before. There's a whole new arena that will generate a lot of
If they cannot make
it illegal through federal law or the courts, opponents of abortion
intend to make the procedure harder to obtain.
legislative campaigns by antiabortion forces have quietly changed
the way women in many states access abortion. Waiting periods,
notification laws, required sonograms and mandated scripts have
been added to medical protocols, to the satisfaction of abortion
opponents and the consternation of providers.
Legislators in Montana
introduced more antiabortion bills in 2009 than during any other
session in the past 20 years, said Allyson Hagen, executive director
of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana.
With the state legislature
out of session, she expects this year's focus to be on political
races and a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish
"personhood" from the moment of conception. Similar
ballot initiatives are being pursued elsewhere, although a proposed
amendment in Colorado lost in 2008 by 46 points.
supporters are hurrying to gather 49,000 signatures by mid-June,
said lead organizer Ann Bukacek, who said a constitutional amendment
would lay the groundwork for an end to abortion. Two years ago,
she said, the effort fell 17,000 signatures short because the
group got a late start.
"I think we'll
get it this time, and if we don't, we'll do it again," said
Bukacek, an internist at Hosanna Health Care in Kalispell. "We'll
never stop. These are innocent, defenseless human beings who are
being slaughtered. We're never going to stop fighting for their
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