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National NOW Times >> Spring, 2001 >> Article

NOW Declares State of Emergency - Campaign to Save Women's Lives

by Sarah Fox

In response to continuing aggression against women’s rights, the National Organization for Women has declared a state of emergency to save women’s rights to self-determination and reproductive freedom. NOW is calling on activists everywhere to take part in an Emergency Action for Women’s Lives in Washington, D.C., on Sunday April 22.

The Emergency Action for Women's Lives will target the Senate to protect women's rights and to stop the packing of the Supreme Court with anti-abortion rights nominees. The Action will cap two weeks of in-state lobbying events during the Senate's spring break from April 7 through 22. It will include virtual action to inundate Senators with e-mails when they return to the nation's capital.

NOW announced plans to stage the Emergency Action at a news conference on March 1, 2001. Before a crowd of cheering feminists, NOW President Patricia Ireland stated, "Bush’s attacks on women’s reproductive freedom, beginning even before he took the oath of office, have convinced me that, even though he has tossed aside the campaign promise of 'compassionate conservatism,' there’s one promise he means to keep. The man who in 1998 declared he would do everything in his power to restrict abortion now has a great deal more power to work with and he clearly intends to use it."

This news conference included statements from: the Feminist Majority, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League, the National Black Women’s Health Project, Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, Catholics for a Free Choice, the National Asian Women’s Health Organization, the American Medical Women’s Association and the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy.

Mobilizing Anger to Save Women’s Lives
Anger is a common sentiment in communities across the nation after an election that many feel was stolen. At its last two meetings NOW’s National Board called on activists to take this anger and use it to spur all to action. Since the November elections, NOW activists have been protesting the steady and continued threat to women's very basic rights. From disenfranchisement to blurring of the line between church and state, the new administration has chipped away at the facade of freedom. At every step of the way activists have been out in force.

The Election
In early December NOW members protested in front of the Supreme Court hoping for a fair count of every vote cast. The Florida legislature was inundated with protesters and fiery speech, including a rally in Tallahasee on Dec. 6, 2000, at which Ireland spoke. Unfortunately a recount was not to be the case, and with a 5-4 vote in the United States Supreme Court, recounts in Florida were stopped and George W. Bush, a candidate with no mandate, was declared president by the electoral college.

The Cabinet
Bush’s campaign touted a platform of unification and compromise. But in spite of his promises to govern from the center, Bush immediately nominated a cabinet that proved his commitment was to a conservative agenda. Diverse on its face only, Bush’s cabinet comprises right-wing favorites. Upon the announcement of such candidates as John Ashcroft to be Attorney General and Tommy Thompson to the Department of Health ans Human Services, women’s lives were put in imminent danger.

NOW immediately stepped up against these candidates. In addition to a media campaign, NOW organized protests every day in front of the Senate buildings while the confirmation hearings were being held. While both men were confirmed, Ashcroft received the highest number of negative votes ever cast against an Attorney General nominee, 42, confirming the possibility for filibuster against ultra-conservative Supreme Court nominees.

The Inauguration
NOW activists made their voices heard along with thousands of protesters at George W. Bush’s inauguration. Ireland spoke at a rally in Dupont Circle and participated in NOW’s protest along the tightly guarded parade route. From their meeting place at the Navy Memorial, NOW activists distributed hundreds of signs reading “No W!” which soon lined the streets from the Capitol to the White House. There was no mistaking the anger and disapproval of the protesters. NBC News commented that of all the groups present, NOW was the most organized.

Emergency Action for Women’s Lives
Not three days into his term, Bush reintroduced, by an executive order, a global gag rule. This act effectively cut off all funding to international family planning groups that offer abortion counseling or lobby their own governments in favor of abortion rights. This attack on reproductive rights, along with Bush’s cabinet appointments, has created a national climate that seems to support continued threats to women’s lives and women’s rights.

Already the Virginia Legislature passed a bill instituting a mandatory delay for abortion services, and in Florida Dr. James Pendergraft, an abortion provider with five clinics in the state, was convicted on federal charges of racketeering and mail fraud in what supporters view as a thinly veiled attempt to put an end to abortion access in that state.

The US Supreme court refused to hear a South Carolina case, letting stand severe limits restricting facilities where abortions can be performed, fueling speculation that the court will not hear any further abortion cases until it has a fifth vote against abortion rights. Reportedly Justice Sandra Day O’Connor may step down from the Supreme Court as early as the end of this summer. The names of John Ashcroft and Orrin Hatch have been reported as possible appointments to the vacated seat.

NOW’s National Board has called all who care about women’s lives to step up in defense of reproductive rights by participating in the emergency campaign. This campaign will center on an effort to pressure the Senate, which has the power to filibuster any nominee.

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