The End for Roe v. Wade?
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End for Roe v. Wade?
Abortion issue heating up in U.S.
WASHINGTON — In two nondescript, heavily guarded offices 10 blocks apart in
downtown D.C., Kate Michelman and Wanda Franz head bustling national war rooms.
They are sworn enemies in a resurgent battle across America over women's reproductive
rights, a confrontation orchestrated out of these private enclaves that could
soon land back in the U.S. Supreme Court.
Almost three decades after the court affirmed the right of American women to safe
therapeutic abortions in the historic Roe v. Wade case, the divisive issue is
on the front burner again, with both sides mounting enormous campaigns to influence
the November mid-term election.
The issue, about one of the most private decisions women make in their lifetimes,
is going public again. With pro-life President George W. Bush in the White House,
proponents on both sides say that never before in the 29 years since Roe v. Wade
has that ruling been in such peril.
Both sides' strategies are exactly the same: help elect governors and members
of the Senate and House who will vote for their views. The Senate, where Democrats
hold a one-seat majority, is crucial. If pro-life groups can elect like-minded
senators, they believe their ally in the White House will respond to anticipated
Supreme Court retirements by appointing judges who will tilt the court's power
balance in favor of reversing Roe v. Wade. Pro-choice groups are busily planning
to elect senators who would veto such appointees.
The Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision, which established the right to
an abortion, began in Texas when a pregnant waitress, identified in court papers
by the pseudonym Jane Roe, sued District Attorney Henry Wade, whose job was to
enforce a state law prohibiting abortion in all cases, except where it was necessary
to save a woman's life.
The new battle is happening at two Washington offices that are hard to find, and
even harder to get into.
Near Pennsylvania Ave. downtown, right beside the museum where tourists line up
to see The House Where Lincoln Died, sits a white, art deco-style building with
an imposing steel gate, double security doors with buzzers and a security camera
peering down. Inside Franz's National Right to Life Committee (NRLC) headquarters,
10,000 square meters are spread over four floors decorated with pictures of babies
and, on one table, a model showing the developing stages of the fetus.
NRLC members speak openly about "when," not if, Roe v. Wade will be overturned,
with Bush's blessing. Last week he delivered an inspirational message via videotape
to the group's national membership when it gathered in Pittsburgh.
Ten blocks uptown, across the parking lot from the Washington Post offices, Michelman's
National Abortion Rights Action
League (NARAL) occupies a vast array of offices on the seventh floor of a
more modern building. One must pass a security guard in the lobby, have a swipe
card for the elevator and then be buzzed through a security door to gain entrance.
The feeling inside among NARAL workers is of being under siege. Gone is the veto
power they enjoyed for eight years under pro-choice president Bill Clinton. Since
the first day of Bush's administration, when he cut off — by executive order —
funding for international family planning programs, they have watched abortion
access slowly, but determinedly, be whittled away.
For example, in January, Bush cleared the way for states to allow "unborn children"
to be eligible for funding under the Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).
His plan would make the unborn child, not the woman, the client under CHIP and
was widely perceived as an attempt to lay the groundwork for the Supreme Court
to one day declare the fetus a "person" entitled to rights and protections.
The White House is also backing the state of Ohio's defense in court of its ban
on mid-term, so-called "partial birth" abortions. Such abortions are very rare,
but can occur in the fifth or sixth month of pregnancy when the fetus is discovered
to be severely damaged, or the woman's life is put in danger by the continued
pregnancy. The NRLC is working with members of Congress to try to pass a national
ban on partial birth abortions.
Michelman says it doesn't take much tea-leaf reading to understand the grave
threat posed to Canadian women if Roe v. Wade is overturned, despite the protections
of the Canadian Supreme Court's 1987 decision in the case of Dr. Henry Morgentaler.
The two countries share the world's longest undefended border. She says there
is no way American pro-life groups, if emboldened further by Roe v. Wade's defeat,
would stand idle while American women hop over the border for abortions. Given
the existing close ties to Canadian pro-life groups, Canada would become the next
"I don't think people realize what a critical moment we've reached in the historic
struggle for women's rights to reproductive freedom and choice," Michelman says.
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