Women's Enews, November 8, 2004
Brace for Roe-less Era
Abortion could go underground.
Now that President George W. Bush has been elected
to a second term, he may appoint new Supreme
Court justices who fundamentally disagree with
the premises of Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme
Court decision that provides U.S. women the
right to legal abortion.
In response to this threat, the Washington, D.C.-based
Planned Parenthood Federation of America is
stepping up the work of its Post-Roe Service
Delivery Task Force--a group dedicated to exploring
the legal and practical aspects of providing
abortion despite a federal ban.
"Bush's election has prompted us to forge
ahead with greater urgency," says Linda
Williams, co-chair of the task force. "Reproductive
freedom--a fundamental freedom that many of
us have taken for granted--is now seriously
For the past four years, Williams and her group's
13 other members have explored the post-Roe
challenge on many fronts.
Among other options, they've looked at maintaining
services by strengthening state laws and the
possibility of providing abortions in places
where federal laws don't apply.
To prepare for what would likely be a health
epidemic, they've urged physicians to get special
training so they know how to treat infections,
uncontrolled bleeding and other life-threatening
complications caused by botched abortions.
Bush Record on Reproductive Rights
During his first term, Bush slashed family planning
programs and promoted "abstinence-only"
sex education. He signed legislation that criminalizes
some abortion procedures that are common after
12 weeks or injure a fetus. He has appointed
more than 200 anti-choice federal judges. His
appointed attorney general and secretary of
Health and Human Services oppose keeping abortion
"Immediately after Bush took office four
years ago, we realized he would try to revoke
Roe vs. Wade," says Williams. "Since
three Supreme Court justices are nearing retirement
and since Bush is likely to appoint anti-choice
justices, we knew we had to be prepared."
Abortion services have already been curtailed,
with only 13 percent of U.S. counties offering
an abortion provider, according to Medical
Students for Choice, based in Oakland, Calif.
State legislatures have enacted more than 380
measures to restrict abortion since 1994, according
to the New York-based Center for Reproductive
Now before Congress: The "Unborn Child Pain
Awareness Act," that requires doctors
to inform women before they have abortions
at 20 weeks or later that the fetus may feel
"We are absolutely delighted to have four
more years with pro-life President Bush,"
says Carol Tobias, political director of the
Washington, D.C.-based National Right to Life
Pro-Choice Advocates Explore Legal Loopholes
Twenty states are likely to protect abortion
rights in the face of a federal ban, with 10
states guaranteeing access to abortion in their
state constitutions, according to a recent
report from the Center for Reproductive Rights.
To maintain reproductive choice in the 20 "safe"
states and to bolster it in the remaining ones,
Planned Parenthood says reproductive-rights
activism is needed on the local level.
"Women should lobby state legislators to
eradicate laws that date from the 1800s and
early 1900s and that call abortion murder,"
says Chris Charbonneau, second co-chair of
the task force. "They should push state
legislators to adopt modern-day laws like those
in Washington, Maryland, and California, the
three states that have air-tight laws because
these laws echo the wording of Roe vs. Wade."
Even if all 50 states outlaw abortion, task force
members are looking at other ways to legally
offer safe abortions.
They consider the possibility of operating abortion
clinics on Native American reservations, which
have laws independent of federal ones. They
consider launching programs like Women on Waves,
a Netherlands-based nonprofit that offers abortion
in countries where it is illegal by performing
procedures on a ship offshore.. They consider
lining the border of Canada--where abortion
is legal and likely to remain so--with clinics
that cater to U.S. women.
Botched Abortions Biggest Concern
If Roe vs. Wade is revoked, task force members
say their biggest concern will be treating
women harmed by botched abortions. "Just
as they did before Roe vs. Wade, women with
unwanted pregnancies will take desperate measures,"
says Wilson. "They will have back-alley
abortions. They will insert sharp objects like
coat hangers into their uteruses. And they
will douche with toxic chemicals like lye or
To prevent such a potential health crisis, task
force members are urging doctors to get special
training so they know how to treat the complications
of botched abortions, which include infection,
cervical tearing, uterine perforation and blood
in the uterus.
Task force members admit, however, that they're
strategies offer no real substitute for Roe
vs. Wade. They expect that abortion providers--fearing
prosecution and violence at the hands of anti-choice
extremists--would likely stop providing procedures.
They expect that a sizable number of the 3
million women with unplanned pregnancies each
year will take matters into their own hands.
Abortion rates were higher in the United States
before the procedure was legal, Gloria Feldt,
president of the Planned Parenthood Federation
of America, has said.
More than 200 U.S. women died each year from
the complications of illegal abortions in the
decade before Roe vs. Wade, Stanley Henshaw,
a senior fellow at The Alan Guttmacher Institute
in New York, has said.
Task force members say that if Roe vs. Wade is
overturned, poor and low-income women--who
seek 57 percent of the 1 million abortions
performed in the United States each year--will
be the ones hardest hit. "Women with enough
money will be able to find a way to terminate
their pregnancies," says Williams. "They
will go abroad or find qualified doctors to
treat them behind closed doors. But poor women
will be exploited. And they will die."
Molly M. Ginty is a freelance writer based
in New York City.
For more information:
Abortion Access Project: - http://www.abortionaccess.org
Women on Waves: - http://www.womenonwaves.org
<< Womens Enews -- 11/8/04 >>
to a friend
Us Newsletters News