March to Stop Rights's Anti-Abortion Legislation, Lies

by Lisa Bennett-Haigney

Dr Susan Wicklund Photo By Beth Corbin

A woman's fundamental right to abortion as established by Roe v. Wade has been under increased assault by a conservative and busy Congress, and by anti-abortion activists posting their scare tactics on subway signs. But reproductive rights activists around the country are ready to demonstrate our own clout, solidarity and conviction in San Francisco April 14 and at the polls this fall.

"We know that the so-called religious right wants to continue to roll back our rights as women and as people of color. We need each one of you to get involved in this battle for our lives," NOW National Secretary Karen Johnson said at Capital City NOW's candlelight vigil at the U.S. Supreme Court honoring the 23rd anniversary of Roe.

Congress has already limited abortion access for federal workers and their families and for military families -- including women serving in Bosnia. Perhaps the most publicized fight over women's reproductive freedom concerns the D&X (dilation and extraction) abortion bill passed by the House and Senate. This bill, which bans a rare abortion procedure, would place Congress in the unprecedented position of regulating medical decision-making and criminalizing abortion for the first time since Roe v. Wade.

This attack has brought out new voices of protest, women who would normally be reluctant to submit their names and lives to the public.

Vikki Stella, a mother from Illinois, has re-lived her family's tragic experience of having to choose the D&X procedure upon discovering that the son they had been excitedly preparing for suffered from severe deformities. Before Congress and the media, Stella has told her story so that the truth about this procedure, and the families behind it, might be known.

"One minute I'm a housewife and the next I'm in Washington making a difference," Stella said in an interview with NOW. "We as women have to continue to fight. I'm doing it for my daughters."

Other states are at work on similar bills, and abortion opponents plan to introduce a D&X bill in California, making the San Francisco location of NOW's April 14 Fight the Right March significant in demonstrating a united front against anti-abortion forces.

Attending a march can be a galvanizing experience, as Dr. Susan Wicklund attests. Wicklund spent more than four years of her life flying between three states, providing abortion services at clinics that otherwise would have gone out of business. It was NOW's 1989 March for Women's Equality/Women's Lives that was "an absolute turning point" for Wicklund, who had previously been a physician in private practice.

"Every march or event after has solidified and increased my conviction," said Wicklund. At NOW's 1992 March for Women's Lives, she walked in the front lines and brought her grandmother, mother and daughter.

Both Stella and Wicklund stress the importance of defending women's hard-won rights, of not being silent. Stella said, "We all have to speak up. We do have power."

Reproductive rights advocates are applying that power in the courts, where judges and juries are increasingly ruling against anti-aborion terrorists and unconstitutional laws. In Ohio, a U.S. District judge has issued an injunction permanently barring enforcement of the state's D&X bill. Although state officials plan to appeal, the ban has never been enforced.

Even if President Clinton vetoes Congress' D&X bill, anti-abortion legislators remain hard at work attaching riders to government spending bills that limit abortion access in other ways. One appropriations bill signed into law in the last session prohibits federal employees from paying for abortion coverage in their health care plan. And the defense bill recently signed by the president ensures that women serving in the U.S. military overseas cannot obtain a safe, legal abortion with their own money.

Religious right activists have broadened their strategy to include the exploitation of breast cancer in a campaign of intimidation, posting false and misleading billboards in the mass transit systems of Washington, D.C., Philadelphia, Baltimore and more cities to follow.

The free public service announcements manipulate weak and inclusive studies on the link between abortion and breast cancer, attempting to terrorize women with the words, "Women who choose abortion suffer more and deadlier breast cancer."

NOW, the National Breast Cancer Coalition, the National Abortion Federation and even the Department of Health and Human Services have all condemned the ads and called for their removal.

"Legislation, terrorism and lies -- the fight for women's reproductive rights becomes more challenging at every turn," said Johnson. "We must understand that our freedom is under serious attack.

"To maintain our right to safe and legal abortion, we have to elect people who will represent our interests," she said. "So first, we have to make our voices heard."

Plan to attend NOW's April 14 Fight the Right March in San Francisco and let your voice be heard.

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