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Ducking a fight for abortion rights

April 21, 2006 | Page 8

SEN. HILLARY Clinton (D-N.Y.) has a funny way of showing her much-talked-about support for abortion rights. In an op-ed that ran last week, Clinton joined forces with anti-choice Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) to call for pro- and anti-choice forces to "work together to find common ground."

The "common-ground, common-sense" approach the two are currently promoting is the so-called "Prevention First Act." Co-sponsored by many leading senate Democrats, Prevention First contains a few worthy provisions--including mandating that private health plans cover contraception in a manner equal to other drugs, and that hospitals provide rape victims with information about, and access to, emergency contraception.

But make no mistake. The Democrat's real goal with putting "prevention first" is to cover for the fact that the fight to keep abortion safe, legal and accessible has been put last by the party.

Blaming their defeat in the 2004 elections on "moral issues" has meant that the Democrats have increasing shifted to the right on issues like abortion. From Clinton's infamous declaration that abortion is a "sad, even tragic, choice," to the party's choice of prominent anti-choicers for positions of leadership, the Democrats have tried to appeal to anti-choice votes, while still putting forward the myth that they are the party of "women's rights."

While politically expedient for the party, this strategy is a playing out in a disastrous way for ordinary women.

In South Dakota, the Democrats gave conservatives a wide margin in approving the state's recent, draconian ban on abortion. In Pennsylvania, the Democrats today are trying to defeat anti-choice bigot Sen. Rick Santorum with their own anti-choicer, State Treasurer Bob Casey Jr. And the party did next-to-nothing as two anti-choice Supreme Court justices were nominated and confirmed.

Unfortunately, the mainstream pro-choice organizations have followed the Democrats' lead--emphasizing birth control and pregnancy prevention as a substitute for an unapologetic defense of abortion rights. But the right's strategy--chipping away at abortion piece by piece, one restriction at a time--has been so successful, in part, because the left has allowed the debate about abortion to be reduced to one of "morality."

If we focus on reducing the number of abortions, the argument from Democrats and pro-choice groups seemingly goes, then maybe the right wing will leave us alone when it comes to the abortions we really need. But that ignores the fact that every abortion is one that some woman "really" needs.

Even under the best of circumstances, unintended and unwanted pregnancies will occur. We need to build a movement that says a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy should always have that right, period.

Instead of saying that there are too many unintended pregnancies and that abortion should be "less frequent," we should be demanding more access to safe and legal abortion.

In South Dakota--where women are often forced to travel hundreds of miles to the state's one abortion clinic to see a single doctor who has to be flown in each week from out of the state--we should be applauding the efforts of Oglala Sioux Chief Cecelia Fire Thunder to open a clinic on the Pine Ridge Reservation.

And in a nation in which an estimated 89 percent of counties have no abortion provider, we should be asking why the "party of women's rights" talks about the need for abortion like it was a dirty little secret.
Nicole Colson, Chicago

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