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Show the politicians:
We won't go back!

By Nicole Colson | April 16, 2004 | Page 12

THE POLITICIANS are taking aim at abortion rights. And George W. Bush is leading the way. The Bush administration started attacking a woman's right to abortion from its first day in power, but in recent months, it sped up the attack.

Bush has a string of recent victories in attacking abortion rights--including recess appointments of fanatical anti-choice judges; last November's ban on the late-term abortion procedure, misnamed "partial-birth" abortion by the right; and the recent passage of the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which makes it a crime to harm a fetus during the commission of certain federal crimes.

The hypocrisy is stunning--an administration that claims to care about the rights of "unborn children" while routinely slashing funding for education and other programs that are desperately needed by actual children.

But Bush's attacks in Washington have emboldened anti-choice bigots across the country:

-- In South Dakota, an outright ban on all abortions (except to save the life or health of the mother) was defeated by a single vote in March. Under the measure, physicians who violated provisions of the bill could have been sentenced to up to five years in prison. The politicians even rejected an exception for survivors of rape or incest.

-- In Minnesota, lawmakers reportedly are close to approving the Taxpayer Protection Act--known to abortion rights supporters as the "Super-gag Rule." The legislation would deny state funding to any health care agency that counsels, makes referrals or performs abortions.

-- In Tennessee, the state senate approved a constitutional amendment in late March that would bar the state constitution from granting a legal right to abortion. Approved by a vote of 23-6, the amendment states, "Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or the funding thereof. The legislature shall have the sole authority to make and shall make such provisions for abortions as it determines reasonably necessary for victims of rape, incest and to save the life of the mother."

These attacks are simply the latest round in the right wing's strategy of chipping away at abortion rights--one piece at a time. But activists across the country are mobilizing to send a message that we won't go back to the days of the back-alley abortions.

Tens of thousands of people will descend on Bush's Washington April 25 for the March for Women's Lives--sponsored by the American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women's Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, National Organization for Women and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

This will be the first national pro-choice demonstration in three years--and an important step in challenging the right wing's offensive. Getting back to the recognition that abortion is basic health care--and that women should not have to apologize for this right--will be essential in building the fight to win back the ground that has been lost on this issue.

Unfortunately, many of the mainstream pro-choice groups are looking only as far as the November elections--and electing the Democratic presidential candidate Sen. John Kerry--to save abortion rights. But far from defending abortion rights, the Democrats have been silent as these attacks have been carried out--when leaders of the party haven't joined the Republican-led attack.

Despite his generally liberal record on abortion, Kerry skipped the Senate vote on last November's late-term abortion ban. All told, 63 House Democrats and 11 Senate Democrats voted in favor of the misnamed "partial birth" ban.

More recently, 47 House Democrats joined forces with Republicans in voting for the Unborn Victims of Violence Act. And in South Dakota and Tennessee, several Democrats proudly endorsed the recent anti-choice measures.

Democrats are fond of saying that abortion should be "safe, legal and rare"--rather than defending the right to choose without apology. And all too often, leaders of mainstream pro-choice groups have adapted their tone. This has only given up more ground to the right.

A real movement that fights for abortion rights will only be built if we look beyond November--and focus not on electing John Kerry, but on building a movement that confronts all the politicians. According to reports, organizers of the March for Women's Lives are limiting the message of the demonstration--for example, by consciously avoiding the opportunity to link the fight for abortion rights with other struggles like the fight for gay marriage.

The organizers are worried about alienating Democrats. But we need to challenge the narrow idea that our hope for safeguarding abortion rights lies in a "regime change" in the White House in November.

Instead, we have to remember how abortion rights were won in the first place--through a grassroots movement that was ready to take to the streets. We need to rebuild that kind of movement--and begin holding both Democrats and Republicans accountable for their attacks on abortion rights.

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