Abortion Rights Under Attack

Revolutionary Worker #1190, March 9, 2003, posted at http://rwor.org

It has been legal for women to have an abortion in the U.S. since the 1973 Supreme Court decision Roe v. Wade . But federal and state anti-abortion laws, decades of anti-abortion propaganda, and highly organized violence and harassment against abortion and abortion providers has made it increasingly difficult for women to have abortions. There are currently 87 counties in the country that don't have abortion facilities--this number is higher than it was in 1973!

The Bush administration has been waging a War on Women--stepping up efforts to take away abortion rights on many different fronts.

A New York Times editorial in January wrote: "Two years into the Bush presidency, it is apparent that reversing or otherwise eviscerating the Supreme Court's momentous 1973 ruling that recognized a woman's fundamental right to make her own childbearing decisions is indeed Mr. Bush's mission. The lengthening string of anti-choice executive orders, regulations, legal briefs, legislative maneuvers and key appointments emanating from his administration suggests that undermining the reproductive freedom essential to women's health, privacy and equality is a major preoccupation of his administration--second only, perhaps, to the war on terrorism."

The New York Times goes on to say that women's right to safe, legal abortions is in "dire peril," and that Bush's assault on reproductive rights is part of a larger ongoing cultural battle in which the White House is trying to block women's access to contraceptives and declaring war on any sex education that discusses ways, beyond abstinence, to prevent pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases. According to the NY Times , scientifically accurate information about contraceptives and abortion has been disappearing from federal government websites.

Many people aren't aware of how the government has quietly been waging a huge assault on women's right to choose. The NY Times reports:

 A big thrust of Mr. Bush's aggressive anti-choice crusade has been to undermine the legal foundation of the Roe decision by elevating the status of a fetus, or even a fertilized egg, to that of a person, with rights equal to, or perhaps even exceeding, those of the woman. For example, Tommy Thompson, the Secretary of Health and Human Services, made "unborn children" rather than pregnant women eligible for coverage under the Children's Health Insurance Program. This unscientific treatment of zygotes like full human beings is part of the rationale behind efforts to prohibit federal financing for research on all new embryonic stem-cell lines--even though such research could help in treating diseases like Parkinson's, cancer and diabetes.

 Bush and members of his administration, like John Ashcroft, are known for their anti-women/anti- choice position. And Bush has been packing the judiciary with people hostile to abortion rights. Bush backs a measure in Congress called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, which would further reduce the already hard-to-get abortion services. It would allow government-supported health care providers to decline to include abortion in their reproductive health services. Providers could even forbid doctors from mentioning abortion as a legal option to female patients.

 Bush supports other anti-choice initiatives, including the ban on so-called "partial-birth abortions" which eliminate already rare late-term abortions. Even the current Supreme Court, full of anti-choice judges, concluded (when it rejected an earlier version of the initiative three years ago) that this effort to criminalize certain abortion procedures would restrict a woman's right to choose abortion by the safest method throughout pregnancy.

 On the first day of his presidency, Bush reimposed the global "gag" rule first instituted by Ronald Reagan, then lifted by Bill Clinton in January 1993. It bars health providers receiving American family planning assistance from counseling women about abortion, engaging in political speech on abortion or providing abortion services, even with their own money. This rule prevents international family planning programs which receive U.S. funding from even talking about abortion as an alternative. The anti-abortion efforts of the Bush administration have also led to the freezing of millions of dollars in financing for valuable programs run by the World Health Organization and the United Nations Population Fund to advance reproductive health and combat HIV and AIDS.

The NY Times points out that the Bush administration's war against women's rights "is a steady march into the past, to a time before Roe v. Wade , when abortion was illegal and pregnancy was more a matter of fate than choice" and that the actual impact of the presidential assault is that "women's constitutional liberty has been threatened, essential reproductive health care has been denied or delayed, and some women will needlessly die."

Federal and local governments have--and are continuing to--quietly and quickly pass legislation that undermines a woman's right to abortion. Current efforts to pass anti-abortion measures in the U.S. Senate include:

 The "Child Custody Protection Act," which would make it a federal crime to take a minor from a state that requires parental notice for an abortion to a state where this notification isn't necessary.

 The "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act," which would prohibit state and local governments from penalizing health care facilities for refusing to perform abortions.

 The "Unborn Victims of Violence Act," which would recognize a fetus as a legal "victim" if it is killed or injured in what the federal government considers a violent crime.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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