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National NOW Times >> Winter 2004/2005 >> Article

Second Term Could Mean the End for Roe

by Casey Shevin, Government Relations Intern

Is This the Beginning of the End?

Thirty-two years ago in Roe v. Wade the Supreme Court recognized the constitutional right of women to choose abortion.

The ruling ended the need for dangerous, back-alley abortions, and allowed women to plan their families safely and without fear of criminal action. This hard-won civil and human right, which Justice Harry Blackmun called "a landmark in the progress of the emancipation of women," is under imminent threat.

George W. Bush used his executive privilege last year to name Jan. 22, the anniversary of Roe v. Wade, "National Sanctity of Life Day" - an insult to the hundreds of thousands of activists, clinic escorts, doctors and medical personnel who have fought vigilantly, and indeed put their own lives on the line, to protect the lives and health of women.

Determined to eradicate the rights affirmed in Roe v. Wade, the conservative movement and their allies in Congress and the courts continue to chip away at the reproductive freedom of women in the U.S. The first four years of the Bush administration marked continuous legislative restrictions on reproductive rights. In the final push of the lame-duck 108th Congressional session, conservative Republicans slipped the misleadingly-named Abortion Non-Discrimination Act, also known as Federal Refusal Clause or "domestic gag rule," into the omnibus spending bill-one that must be passed to keep the government running-despite the fact that it had never been considered by the Senate.

Sen. Judd Gregg, R-N.H, and Rep. Michael Bilirakis, R-Fla., introduced the bill, which had been drafted by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. The legislation will impact U.S. reproductive healthcare in the same fashion the global gag rule weakened international reproductive health services.

Under the Federal Refusal Clause, healthcare insurers such as Medicare, HMOs, private insurance companies and hospitals can refuse to permit their doctors to provide, refer, or even counsel patients regarding abortion—even if the patient asks for information. This disregards the fact that abortion is a legal and sometimes medically necessary procedure, and that it violates medical ethics to refuse to give a patient full information about her medical options.

Following the November elections, Sen. Arlen Specter, R-Pa., a conservative who defended Roe v. Wade, was expected to become Chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

However, when Specter said he thought that an anti-choice Supreme Court nominee might have trouble being confirmed, he was attacked by the right wing of his own party.

He was forced to reverse his statement, virtually promising to usher Bush's nominees through the confirmation process. Such insistence revealed what feminists have long believed to be true-conservatives want to overturn Roe by any means possible.

And they will get their chance in the coming few years, as George W. Bush makes one, two, three or perhaps even four nominations to the closely divided Supreme Court, tipping the scales and wreaking havoc on women's rights and civil rights for the next 30 years.

In the meanwhile, the right-wing leadership in both houses of Congress will try to railroad through as many legislative restrictions of reproductive rights as possible, with as little publicity as possible.

Take time on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade to remember the danger that women faced before the constitutional right to abortion was recognized by the Supreme Court, and recognize that for some women—especially young, rural or low-income women—many of those horrors have already returned. Recommit yourself to the protection of this fundamental right.

We've fought for 32 years to protect the hard-won rights of Roe and we will continue to fight for 32 more if necessary.

To make sure that you can participate in NOW's Save the Court campaign when the time comes, be sure to go to www.now.org/actions to receive our action alerts and see what else you can do to help.

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