Defending legal abortion

Challenges, opportunities for pro-choice movement

Defending legal abortion on 39th anniversary

by Susan Elizabeth Davis

The pro-choice movement is marching for reproductive justice on the 39th anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. But not only in the streets.

More than 50 national groups supporting women’s health and rights have coalesced behind a “Trust Women Week National Online March,” scheduled to run from Jan. 20 through Jan. 27. Supporters are signing an online petition posted by MoveOn to send a strong message to members of Congress and state governors and legislators that they are demanding reproductive health, rights and justice. (

This national tactic was adopted to counter the unprecedented attacks in 2011 on legal, safe, accessible abortion at all levels of government. In a political climate where each Republican presidential candidate is trying to show he’s more anti-abortion than the next guy, pro-choice supporters anticipate that 2012 will see many more attacks.

So they’re kicking off this year with a united pro-choice message. Petition signers can choose various slogans to express their politics. Among them are “I trust women and I vote,” “Reproductive rights are human rights” and “We are the 99%. Fix the economy, and stop the attacks on women’s health.”

On Jan. 22-23, pro-choice activists took to real streets to express these sentiments and others. Demonstrations were held in New York; San Francisco; Los Angeles; Little Rock, Ark.; and Washington, D.C. and thousands of supporters attended activities in cities across the country.

Legal restrictions mount amid violence, harassment

The Guttmacher Institute tallied 92 state laws that limited access to abortion in 2011. Currently 19 states mandate preoperative counseling that includes false information about the health consequences of abortions; 25 have 24-hour preoperative waiting periods; and 33 states offer no Medicaid coverage for poor women, who are disproportionately women of color, young and live in rural communities.

Violence continues. On New Year’s Day, a firebomb damaged a clinic in Pensacola, Fla. Clinic providers, staff and patients — regardless of what kind of reproductive health care they are seeking — are subject to daily harassment.

For example, after Todd Stave, who owns Germantown Reproductive Health Services in Maryland, hired Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a longtime abortion provider in Nebraska, to do first- and second-trimester abortions last spring, the clinic was subjected to a week-long protest by Operation Rescue in August. The condo association from which the clinic has rented space for 19 years was deluged with demands to cancel the lease. But the lowest blow was when the anti-choice forces picketed the opening day of school that Stave’s 11-year-old daughter attends and were there again on Open School Night.

Fightback launched to stop attacks

To counter these attacks, pro-choice legal organizations like the Center for Reproductive Rights turned back anti-choice laws in several states. A broad coalition, headed by Mississippians for Healthy Families, stopped passage of a “personhood” amendment in that state. If passed, it would have given all the rights of a living person to a fertilized egg — restricting all abortions, outlawing many types of birth control and possibly criminalizing some complications from pregnancy.

After intense pro-choice actions, both online and in the streets, three bills passed by the House of Representatives — one mandating that a hospital could let a woman die rather than perform an abortion, another for a federal ban on insurance coverage for abortions, and another ending federal Medicaid payments to Planned Parenthood — were not passed by the Senate.

On Jan. 20, the Obama administration announced that the vast majority of health insurance plans must provide contraceptives for women free of charge. It also rejected a broad exemption, lobbied for by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which would have denied family-planning coverage to all employees (regardless of their religious affiliation) at Catholic hospitals, colleges and charities.

The National Network of Abortion Funds, with more than 100 local affiliates which help fund poor women’s access to abortion, is building a coalition to expand its fight to overturn the Hyde Amendment. That ended federal Medicaid coverage for poor women seeking abortions in 1976. NNAF also runs the George Tiller Memorial Abortion Fund, set up on May 31, 2009, the day the heroic abortion provider was gunned down in his Wichita, Kan., church.

After Tiller was murdered, his clinic was closed. But recently Julie Burkhart — inspired by Dr. Tiller, whose motto was “Trust Women” — set up the Trust Women PAC. Through it Burkhart is raising $500,000 to open The Family Health Service Center: A Trust Women Facility in Wichita in Dr. Tiller’s memory.

In addition to Trust Women Week, the pro-choice movement needs to join with others fighting for rights for the 99% in 2012. As longtime reproductive rights journalist and activist Eleanor J. Bader concludes in her article in the Winter 2012 issue of On The Issues Magazine, “The only solution is radical, bold action — sit-ins, civil disobedience and mass demonstrations — in defense of liberty, justice and gender equality.”

Statistics are from Bader’s article, “Anti-Abortion Harassment and ­Violence Still Stifle Access,” — ­On The Issues magazine.

First published in Workers World newspaper  Jan 28, 2012

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