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National NOW Times >> Spring, 2001 >> Article

The Bad News Keeps Getting Worse

When George W. Bush was declared president, feminists knew that women’s rights were at serious risk. But even those of us who campaigned against Bush, those who warned that abortion rights, reproductive freedom and all women’s rights would be threatened by a second Bush administration, were devastated by the new president’s early actions.

Even before President Bush took the oath of office, his Cabinet nominees shattered any hope that he might keep his campaign promise of “compassionate conservatism.” Retreads from his father’s administration have been joined by darlings of the radical right-wing to fill out W’s team. Proponents of some of the most regressive social policies are the new caretakers of our nation’s resources.

On his first day of work in the Oval Office, with the stroke of a pen, President Bush eliminated international family planning funding to organizations that offer abortion counseling or abortion services. In justifying his actions, President Bush explained that he did not believe that the government should support organizations that support abortion — even though the federal funds in question were segregated and could not be used to pay for abortion services.

In a classic example of W-speak, President Bush defended his proposal to give federal funding to faith-based social service programs because those monies would be earmarked for social services, not religious services. In other words, when it suits the president’s political agenda, funds are fungible. And reporters overheard our new president boasting at a Catholic Charities luncheon that his so-called faith-based initiatives would advance the anti-abortion rights cause.

The bad news keeps getting worse. U.S. Supreme Court Justice Sandra Day O’Connor reportedly will retire at the end of this term. While she is to the right of center O’Connor has been the all-important fifth vote in many 5-to-4 decisions preserving legal abortion. With the senate’s confirmation of John Ashcroft, the standard for appointments has been lowered. So right-wing ideologues like Orrin Hatch could be portrayed as moderate and then could more likely be confirmed. The handwriting is on the wall. We are in for a very rough four years.

The Bush administration is committed to actions and strategies that limit reproductive freedoms, such as eliminating life-saving stem cell research, criminalizing abortion providers, reducing availability of birth control and denying funding for sex education that actually educates students about sex. And the attacks continue in Congress as anti-abortion forces in the House have introduced a bill to limit the availability of mifepristone (RU486).

We must redouble our efforts. And we have to send a strong, clear message to every U.S. senator: We will not roll over while Bush tries to roll back our rights! We will mount a massive movement to save our rights and the rights of generations to come. We will not cede the U.S. Supreme Court to religious political extremists.

The National Organization for Women has called for an Emergency Action for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., on Sunday, April 22, to target the U.S. Senate to save our rights and to stop the packing of the U.S. Supreme Court with anti-abortion rights nominees. We are putting NOW’s members — and all abortion rights supporters — on red alert. (See story front page.) We will bring women, men and children from across the country to take action on the Capitol.

Democrats in the Senate have a slim margin to sustain a filibuster. (Forty-one votes are required to sustain a filibuster. Forty-two Democrats voted against Ashcroft.) We need to shore-up the Democrats, and we need to pressure moderate Republicans to ensure that the next U.S. Supreme Court justice supports women’s rights, including legal abortion. It will take nothing short of a national emergency action to save the Supreme Court. And women’s lives hang in the balance.

Whether you have never marched on Washington before, or have marched many times, we implore you to come to the nation’s capital on Sunday, April 22, 2001. Bring your family and friends. Make the sacrifice to be here to show the largest outpouring for women’s rights in the new millennium.

The Emergency Action for Women’s Lives will make history this spring. And if all of us stand together, we can change the course of our future. Never before has so much been at stake. Never before has your participation been so important.

As we face attacks on our rights which may have seemed unthinkable just a few years ago, we are reminded that feminists must continue to battle patriarchy’s thousands-of-years-old legacy. Assessing the magnitude of the work which lies ahead, it is easy to get discouraged. It’s hard not to feel overwhelmed, to feel alone, to feel ineffective — especially given the radical right-wing stranglehold on Congress, the White House and the U.S. Supreme Court.

Whenever we feel discouraged, we can think back on inspiring moments in our movement. Marching down Pennsylvania Avenue with thousands of feminists — a crowd larger than the patriarchy is old — we know we are not alone. We are part of a movement that is even greater and more powerful than the sum of its parts. Remembering the faces and voices of people from across the nation — and even around the world — we know that all of us are up for the challenges we face.

Please come and add your voice to the thousands who will come to the nation’s capital. As Susan B. Anthony said in her last public utterance, “With women such as these consecrating their lives, failure is impossible.” We will fight back for women’s lives in the streets of Washington on April 22, 2001. Come take your place in history.

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