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Women's Enews (USA), October
Roe Falls, States Offer Little Protection
Editor's Note: The following is a commentary.
The opinions expressed are those of the author
and not necessarily the views of Women's Enews.
by Ann Pappert
(WOMENSENEWS)--Like most other women concerned
with abortion rights, I've focused on what
would happen if Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 Supreme
Court decision protecting women's right to
have a legal abortion, was overturned.
But after working as communications consultant
at the Center for Reproductive Rights, and
reading their new report, "What If Roe
Fell?" I now realize that the abortion
battleground is also in the states. And more
than ever, I'm convinced that anyone who says
the threats to Roe are exaggerated is trying
to disengage women from the very real threat
that faces a woman's access to a safe and legal
There's little doubt that the re-election of
George Bush would bring us to the threshold
of a reversal of Roe, since he's likely to
fill any vacancy on the Supreme Court with
In the event that Roe were to be overturned,
the power to regulate abortion would revert
back to the states.
Is this really something to worry about?
Yes. Restrictive abortion laws have been passed
in state after state, even when a pro-choice
President and Congress were in charge. Many
of these laws were passed by anti-choice proponents
in the hopes that any legal challenge could
reach the Supreme Court. Once there, a ruling
to uphold a state abortion ban might nullify
Nothing to Fear
For years, I've listened to anti-choice conservatives
tell women that the pro-choice movement exaggerates
the threat to Roe, and that even if it were
reversed we'd have nothing to fear.
Pundits, such as the New Republic's Jeffrey Rosen,
claim that only a few states would pass laws
restricting abortion; that the right has backed
off the abortion battle.
Earlier this year, I listened as Lisa Schiffrin--a
Republican Party strategist best known as the
author of Dan Quayle's famous "Murphy
Brown" speech attacking single mothers--told
several hundred people at a taping of a New
York City radio forum that everyone knows that
the right wing has conceded defeat when it
comes to abortion.
This, however, was only months after Congress,
in November 2003, passed a federal ban on abortions
that has since been ruled unconstitutional
by three federal district courts and which,
by the way, is so vaguely worded that abortions
after 12 weeks could have been prohibited.
So don't listen to people like Rosen and Schiffrin.
Far from backing off, anti-choice proponents
have been working furiously on a state level
for years, passing law after law against abortion,
from legislation banning abortions outright
to laws mandating waiting periods or requiring
biased, anti-choice counseling.
According to NARAL Pro-Choice America, the leading
pro-choice organization, since 1995 alone,
state legislatures have passed 380 measures
restricting abortions and a reversal of Roe
would add fuel to the fire.
"What If Roe Fell?" is the first detailed
state-by-state analysis of the effect of a
reversal of Roe and the report makes it clear
that the end of Roe could spell an end to abortion
rights for most American women.
According to the report, only 20 states are likely
to have protections against abortion bans if
Roe falls. Only 10 states offer constitutional
guarantees for abortion.
That leaves 70 million women of reproductive
age in 30 states at immediate risk of losing
their right to choose.
New Life for Old Bans
In some states existing laws banning abortion
have never been challenged and are only held
in check by Roe. Alabama's pre-Roe abortion
law, for instance, has never been blocked by
any court. If Roe is lifted, doctors who perform
abortions in that state would immediately be
vulnerable to the accusation that they were
committing a felony.
Other states have abortions bans on the books
that have been blocked by the courts. In these
states, with anti-choice governors and legislatures,
officials would likely move quickly to lift
these injunctions and restore restrictive abortion
Take Michigan for instance. Its abortion ban
was blocked by the courts shortly after the
original Roe decision in 1973. If Roe were
reversed, officials in Michigan could ask the
courts to restore the ban.
Still other states have legislatures likely to
enact anti-choice laws.
Although Ohio has no pre-Roe abortion law, neither
does it have a state constitutional guarantee
to abortion. And neither does it have pro-choice
political leadership. Both Ohio's governor
and its state legislature are anti-choice,
leaving the state wide open to banning abortion
altogether if Roe were to be reversed.
The report also identifies 21 states where women
are at a high risk of losing their right to
choose: Alabama, Arkansas, Colorado, Delaware,
Kentucky, Louisiana, Michigan, Mississippi,
Missouri, Nebraska, North Carolina, North Dakota,
Ohio, Oklahoma, Rhode Island, South Carolina,
South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Virginia and Wisconsin.
Nine states are at moderate risk: Arizona, Georgia,
Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, New
Hampshire and Pennsylvania.
The 20 states where abortion rights would likely
be protected are: Alaska, California, Connecticut,
Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts,
Minnesota, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New
Mexico, New York, Oregon, Tennessee, Vermont,
Washington, West Virginia and Wyoming.
When Schiffrin downplayed the right wing's concern
with abortion, it was only days after the massive
pro-choice march in Washington last April,
when upwards of a million people voiced their
support for reproductive choice.
By the way, she spoke about pro-choice activists
you would have thought we were the lunatic
fringe: a bunch of paranoid radicals unwilling
and unable to accept the fact that abortion
rights were no longer at risk.
"What if Roe Fell?" debunks any such
idea. It also makes it clear why reassurances
about the permanence of abortion guarantees
must be considered suspect. We must see these
tactics for what they really are: a strategy
to lull pro-choice supporters into a false
sense of comfort and keep them from getting
involved and to marginalize those of us who
As the report from the Center for Reproductive
Rights so clearly shows us, now is precisely
the time for anyone who wants to support abortion
rights to get involved.
Ann Pappert has spent over two decades as
a journalist and activist, working on women's
issues. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y.
For more information:
Center for Reproductive Rights-- - "What
If Roe Fell?": - http://www.reproductiverights.org/pub_bo_whatifroefell.html
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