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WHAT WE THINK
Rebuilding the struggle
How to stop the attack on abortion rights

December 3, 2004 | Page 3

THE BUSH administration thinks it has political "capital." And it plans on spending some to destroy women's right to choose abortion.

Tucked away in the omnibus spending bill approved by Congress last month was a provision that would allow physicians, hospitals, HMOs and insurance plans to opt out of giving abortion referrals, as they currently are required to. This provision will especially affect poor women, who rely on federally funded health care.

Since taking office in 2001, Bush has signed the misnamed partial-birth abortion ban, which outlaws late-term abortions, and the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which takes another step toward giving a fetus the rights of a living human being.

Now that they're safely back in the White House, the Bush gang have more legal restrictions in the works. Like the so-called Child Custody Protection Act, which would make it a federal crime for an adult to help transport a minor across state lines for an abortion unless the minor has met all restrictions in her home state.

After Bush's election victory, some Democratic leaders responded by arguing that their party should water down its pro-choice stance. Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.), a Catholic who led party outreach to religious voters, suggested that fellow Democrats should tout the fact that the number of abortions fell under Bill Clinton and rose under Bush. "We would like to see fewer abortions, and we want our children to learn good values," said DeLauro.

Al From, founder of the conservative Democratic Leadership Council, told the New York Times, "I want to win some people who are pro-life, because they probably agree with us on a lot of other things."

But the problem isn't that Democrats have fought too hard for abortion rights. It's that they haven't fought at all.

The right wing has clearly gained ground in the abortion debate--not because their arguments are so compelling, but because the pro-choice side's case has been so...nonexistent.

Despite the backlash, a majority of people still support Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision that made abortion legal in 1973. A recent poll found that Americans oppose making it harder for women to get an abortion by a 57 percent to 36 percent margin. And according to a survey commissioned by Catholics for a Free Choice, 61 percent of respondents--all self-identified Catholics--either strongly or somewhat agreed that "it should be legal for a woman to have an abortion."

No matter what the pundits claim, for many people, abortion is, at heart, a question of whether a woman has a right to decide whether to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

To understand why abortion is under threat today, you have to go back before Bush--to the Clinton presidency. Mainstream women's groups like the National Organization for Women (NOW) and NARAL Pro-Choice America stood by while Clinton--who came into office promising to pass the Freedom of Choice Act--tolerated the chipping away of abortion rights, procedure by procedure and state by state.

In 1997, Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) led the "opposition" to the Republicans' attempt at a federal "partial-birth" ban--by proposing legislation that banned even more late-term procedures. "We ban abortion; they ban a procedure," Daschle said. "They allow all the other abortive procedures available--dilation and evacuation, induction, hysterotomies, hysterectomies--those are still legally available. What we ban are all of those procedures--all of them."

As a senator, John Kerry voted for Daschle's "alternative."

Despite all this, the strategy of liberal women's organizations has been to elect supposedly pro-choice Democrats. So even when the Bush administration went after abortion from its first days in office in 2001, groups like NARAL never mobilized--except for last April's March for Women's Lives, which was little more than a campaign rally for Kerry.

The anti-abortion bigots can be stopped--if they're opposed.

You can forget about groups like NOW and NARAL leading this fight. The opposition will have to be built from the bottom up.

It's important to remember that when Roe v. Wade hung in the balance during George Bush Sr.'s presidency--with a Supreme Court stacked with Republicans taking up two crucial cases in 1989 and 1992--protest made the difference. Hundreds of thousands of abortion rights supporters turned out for two national demonstrations to defend a woman's right to choose. One justice later admitted that he feared the public outcry if the court were to overturn Roe.

Likewise, when the fanatics of Operation Rescue tried to shut down abortion providers in 1992, activism again played a decisive role. In Buffalo, the anti-abortionists were driven back--by a huge mobilization of pro-choice supporters determined to keep the clinics open.

It will be up to activists once again to take the lead in beating back the anti-abortion bigots--whether they're in the White House or in the streets.

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