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National NOW Times >> August 1995 >> Article

Renewed Assaults on Abortion and Reproductive Rights

by Brennan Ames, NOW Intern

Except for the narrow defeat of a surgeon general nominee, few abortion rights battles have captured national headlines in recent months. Although waged in the U.S. Senate, Dr. Henry Foster's nomination fell victim to GOP presidential politics with Phil Gramm of Texas and Bob Dole of Kansas both attempting to woo the party's right wing support.

Republicans were able to avoid a direct vote by supporting a Gramm's filibuster, while contender Patrick Buchanan declared, "if elected, I will be the most Pro life president...."

But reproductive rights activists are facing off against increasingly inflammatory rhetoric and cut-throat strategies -- on fronts ranging from local clinics to presidential politics.

Local Scare Tactics

Anti -abortion terrorists have committed more than 1,500 acts of violence, such as murders that have left five people dead, fire-bombings, gas attacks, threats, assaults and clinic invasions.

"We are obligated to do whatever we can to defend innocent people. Just because Jesus didn't act this way doesn't mean he wouldn't approve," said Donna Bray, director of a group called Defenders of the Defenders of Life.

Posters comparing Jewish abortion providers to Nazi war criminals listing names, photos, spouses, addresses, and phone numbers are being distributed by members of Project Life-Nova in the Washington, D.C., area. Providers and their families are harassed at home. The American Coalition of Life Activists promotes a "deadly dozen" hit list of abortion providers. "These scare tactics bring a very real fear into the hearts and minds of those who are targeted. Many fear that more violence will erupt, while the perpetrators hope to scare doctors and clinics out of performing abortions," NOW President Patricia Ireland said.

New State Laws: New Restrictions

As the anti- abortion radicals utilize violent tactics on the streets, anti-abortion state legislators are attempting to steamroll a plethora of bills that would deny abortion access to women in states all over the country. Restrictive state legislation includes bills that would burden clinics with prohibitive insurance requirements; force women to wait 48 hours before accessing an abortion, slash state funds for family planning services, stiffen parental consent statutes and raise the age of consent for birth control and abortion services.

As Alabama NOW coordinator Alicia Cole bleakly states, "Even if they do not pass this year, they may well come back to haunt us next year."

Disinformation Campaign Succeeding

In Ohio, a bill banning third trimester D & X abortions -- dilation and extraction, referred to by abortion opponents as "partial birth" or "brain suction" abortions -- passed in the House and Senate. It will go to the governor next, where it will face no opposition.

Such abortion procedures are extremely rare, making up only four one-hundredths of one percent (0.04 percent) of all abortions performed in the U.S. They are performed only in tragic circumstances, when a woman's life or health is in danger or when there is extremely severe fetal abnormality.

"There is so much misinformation. Not only do legislators not know the facts about D & X and why it is done, neither does the public." said Betsy Marshall, Ohio NOW president.

Following the dictates of the "Christian Right" The Congressional House Judiciary Committee voted favorably for HR1833 (the federal replica of the Ohio bill).The bill bans late term abortion procedures and threaten doctors with both criminal and civil prosecution if they perform the D &X procedure even if done to save the life or health of their patient. This bill undermines Roe v Wade which only prohibits late term abortions a woman's life or health is not in danger.

Dr. J. Courtland Robinson, who testified before a House subcommittee in June, said, "telling a physician that it is illegal for him or her to adapt his or her surgical method for the safety of the patient is, in effect, legislating malpractice, and it flies in the face of standards for quality medical care.... And that means that women will probably die. I know. I've seen it happen."

Micromanagement of Reproductive Care

The push to ban certain third trimester abortions is just one of about a half dozen different legislative maneuvers by abortion opponents in Congress, whose numbers swelled to a majority as a result of the 1994 elections.

House Republicans passed a bill banning abortions at overseas military hospitals, even if paid for by the patient. The ban, which was an amendment to the Department of Defense Authorization Bill, was passed in the House, but is struck in the Senate Armed Services Committee. "This may give a twisted new meaning to the traditional idea of women in the military putting their lives on the line for their country," said Ireland.

On the House floor members also voted to strike from health insurance any coverage for federal employees' abortions.

In their eagerness and haste to please the right wing "Christian Coalition", the Republican dominated House Appropriations Committee has launched a frontal attack on the reproductive health and freedom of all women in this country by amending the Labor/Health/Human Services and Education Appropriations Bill as follows:

The Title X program would be totally eliminated. Title X provides the only federal funding for family planning. The amendment instead transfers allocated funds to two block grants (maternal/child health and community/migrant health centers), with no recommendation or requirement that any of the funds be spent on family planning.

All federal funding for human embryo research of any kind would be eliminated. Such research has shown great promise for progress in the treatment of many life threatening diseases, among them certain cancers and Altzheimers.

Medicaid payment for abortions for women who have been raped or victimized through incest would be at the discretion of each state. Currently, abortions in cases of rape and incest must be covered by Medicaid for poor women. If passed, this state option would be retroactive back to 1993, rendering pending legal challenges to denial of funding moot.

The amended bill would reverse the American College of Graduate Medical Education directive that ob/gyn programs offer training in abortion techniques in order to comply with accreditation standards. Not only does this amendment install congressional micro- management of medical education and undermine the accreditation standards of the medical community; but it further jeopardizes all women's access to quality medical abortions by reducing the number of well trained doctors.

Finally, in yet another contradictory and cynical move, the committee denied any funds for women in federal prisons seeking abortions.

On the international front, the Sen Jesse Helms, R-NC, chaired Foreign Relations Committee is about to adopt and amendment reinstating the "Mexico City" policy. The amendment prohibits any international family planning programs or organizations that receive U.S. financial aid from counseling, referring patients for an abortion, mentioning abortion services or otherwise encouraging foreign governments to change their abortion laws or policies -- even if they are using their own funds (not U.S. funds) to do so.

Both the ban on military hospital abortions and the Mexico City policy were Reagan-era policies repealed during President Clinton's first week in office.

High Court's Mixed Messages

In refusing to consider three decisions from lower courts, the U.S. Supreme Court left standing one victory for abortion rights supporters and sent a mixed message on two other cases. In those two cases, lower courts had come down on opposite sides of whether to allow abortion opponents to picket doctors in residential areas and the court did not decide between them. In the other case, the Supreme Court indirectly upheld the constitutionality of the new Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act by refusing to review a lower court decision that found FACE constitutional.

"In letting the lower court ruling on FACE stand, the court upheld the purpose of FACE, which protects women and clinic personnel from the rising tide of anti-abortion terrorism," said NOW Action Vice President Rosemary Dempsey.

NOW is actively pursuing its anti-racketeering civil case, NOW v. Scheidler, against anti-abortion terrorists.

Yet the Justice Department seems to be having a hard time pulling together its own evidence of a nationwide criminal conspiracy. The government's star squealer, Rachelle "Shelley" Shannon, who is serving time for the attempted murder of Dr. George Tiller, has apparently clammed up after initially offering testimony linking anti- abortion ringleaders to various crimes around the country

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