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National NOW Times >> Fall 2002 >> Article

After 30 Years of Roe v. Wade: We Won't Go Back!

by Patricia Dreher, Legal Intern and Mindy Davis, Communications Intern

Jan. 22, 2003, will mark the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision, the landmark privacy ruling that gives women the constitutional right to choose abortion.

Activists march in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 2002, at Capital City NOW's annual candlelight vigil.
Activists march in front of the Supreme Court on Jan. 22, 2002, at Capital City NOW's annual candlelight vigil. Photo by Lindsay Bond

With the Nov. 5 elections giving Republicans the majority of the House and Senate, and with staunchly anti-abortion George W. Bush in the White House, this triumvirate of power makes the struggle to maintain abortion and reproductive rights so much more difficult and imperative.

Organizing Tools On Their Way to NOW Chapters

NOW has created a Roe v. Wade 30th anniversary kit to encourage NOW members and other activists to show their much needed support for these precious and now very at-stake liberties.

Included in the Roe v. Wade kits are action ideas for chapters and a postcard order form for a drive to be held the week of Jan. 20, 2003. The postcards, directed to U.S. senators, urge them to protect abortion rights. Also included are a flier and a news release NOW members can use to announce their own Roe v. Wade anniversary event to local press. Finally there are fact sheets on the history of Roe and reproductive rights, as well as a list of Bush's measures to undermine those rights. Connect to the chapters section of the web site to access the kit online.

"Thanks to the 2002 elections, President Bush has a blank check to sign away women's rights," said NOW's Action Vice President Olga Vives. "This Jan. 22, Roe has never seemed more important or more threatened. We are talking about women's lives."

Reproductive Rights: Part of Bush's "Axis of Evil"?

Bush proclaimed Jan. 20, 2002, two days before the 29th anniversary of Roe, "National Sanctity of Human Life Day." His proclamation likened abortion to terrorism, stating: "On September 11, we saw clearly that evil exists in this world, and that it does not value life ... Now we are engaged in a fight against evil and tyranny to preserve and protect life."

On the international level, Bush froze U.S. funding for the United Nations Family Planning Fund, which operates projects that provide contraceptive, gynecological, and HIV/AIDS prevention services in 142 countries.

Bush has promised to sign an abortion procedures ban ("partial-birth" abortion is a misleading description) and now he may get his chance. This is just one of several bills in Congress that the right wing is pushing in order to erode women's rights, and now that Republicans have the majority of the House and Senate, it would be surprising not to see more bills limiting women's rights.

Supreme Court Holds the Key

In the judicial branch, Bush is stacking federal courts with extremist, ultra-conservative judges—placing more obstacles in the path of women exercising their rights. He has made nearly 120 nominations and more than 60 of these judges have already been confirmed by the Senate for lifetime judgeships. This is the same pool of judges from which future Supreme Court justices will likely be drawn.

The likely retirement of at least one Supreme Court justice during Bush's term in office poses perhaps one of the greatest threats to women's rights in the U.S.

Here's a look at the current breakdown of the Court:

  • Four justices who can be counted on to vote for reproductive freedom and against most restrictions on abortion: Stephen Breyer, Ruth Bader Ginsberg, David Souter and John Paul Stevens.

  • Two justices who represent the swing votes—they have supported the core principles of Roe, but have voted in favor of restrictions: Anthony Kennedy and Sandra Day O'Connor. Kennedy is reported to have second thoughts and could vote with Roe opponents, as he did in Stenberg v. Carhart.

  • Three justices consistently oppose reproductive rights, support all restrictions, and can be counted on to vote in favor of any serious challenge to or reversal of Roe v. Wade: Chief Justice William Rehnquist, Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas.

If one of the six justices in the first two groups retires and is replaced with a conservative, Roe may still survive in name, but the likelihood that the Court will pass further restrictions on abortion increases.

If two of the six justices retire and are replaced by conservative judges, Roe v. Wade may not see another anniversary, and generations of women will suffer.

On Dec. 4, 2002, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in the NOW v. Scheidler case. The justices will rule on the validity of prosecting clinic terrorists under racketeering and extortion laws. (See full story.)

These are just some of the examples of the current threats to women's reproductive freedom. NOW is encouraging its members and all feminist activists to not only observe the Roe v. Wade anniversary on Jan. 22, 2003, but to spend the rest of George W. Bush's term fighting to protect it.

"We cannot let the elections get us down. Yes, we are frustrated and angry, but we must remember that women's lives are at risk. Giving up is not an option — we must take action," said Vives.

Visit http://www.now.org/chapters or call 202-628-8669 to locate your local chapter and find out what activities are scheduled for the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

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