Abortion Rights under Assault, Backers Say
For some, it was George W. Bush’s election as president, and his potential to appoint a Supreme Court justice who could vote to overturn Roe vs. Wade.
For others, it was a move on the state and national level to enact legislation making certain types of abortions illegal.
For one, it was post-Sept. 11 anthrax scares at Planned Parenthood offices throughout the country. ”That moved me, it got my attention,” said Tom Halbleib, an attorney and board chairman of Planned Parenthood of Louisville.
For myriad reasons, a dozen local groups — ranging from Planned Parenthood to the American Civil Liberties Union — have formed a coalition to raise money and mobilize people in support of abortion rights in Kentucky and nationwide.
Its first event, scheduled for tomorrow, will feature three national abortion-rights supporters, including Sarah Weddington, the attorney who in 1973 won the Supreme Court’s landmark Roe vs. Wade case that legalized abortion in every state.
The coalition, One Voice for Choice, represents a recognition that abortion-rights forces have not been as vocal or as active as abortion opponents in Kentucky, said Mary Moss Greenebaum, a coalition supporter.
Rather than sitting back and assuming that Roe vs. Wade will remain the law of the United States, the coalition will work to protect it, she said.
”The moment has come to speak for ourselves,” Greenebaum said. ”Perhaps we aren’t being heard.”
Local abortion-rights supporters have never had such a coalition, she said.
The coalition has hired a director, Anne McKune, and it plans to soon begin an educational campaign about reproductive rights. The organization also will offer speakers to community groups and will recruit people in their 20s and 30s to join its cause. McKune’s salary will be paid through money raised from events such as the one this week. Post-Sept. 11 anthrax scares spurred Tom Halbleib to help form the group.
”I feel my generation, who has lived all their lives with Roe, has taken for granted the fact that it’s always going to be there,” said McKune, 23.
Tomorrow’s public event will be held at The Kentucky Center in downtown Louisville. Tickets are $10, with a wine and cheese reception at 5 p.m., followed by the program at 6. Besides Weddington, other speakers are:
# Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, a private organization not affiliated with the Catholic Church.
# Former U.S. Rep. Connie Morella, a Maryland Republican who spent 16 years in the House and speaks against the Bush administration’s policies on abortion.
The public event will be followed by a private $500-a-plate fund-raiser at the home of Christy and Owsley Brown. The fund-raiser — whose sponsors range from Hank Wagner, president of Jewish Hospital, to John Yarmuth, executive editor and founder of the Louisville Eccentric Observer — already has pulled in $100,000, organizers said.
Local abortion opponents said they aren’t surprised by the coalition.
”Looks to me like the same old thing,” said Vincent Senior, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Kentucky.
”They’re trying to drum up support because they are such a small group,” and because of recent successes by the anti-abortion movement in the state, said Margie Montgomery, executive director of Kentucky Right to Life Association, based in Louisville.
”They see the achievements of the pro-life side,” said Montgomery, whose group has spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on its television ad campaign in the past several years. It marches on Frankfort each year and prints and distributes brochures statewide.
The group also has supported legislative bills that have had some success in the Kentucky General Assembly.
Earlier this year the state Senate approved a ”fetal homicide” bill, which would define a fetus as a person starting at fertilization. The bill did not come up for a vote in a House committee.
Abortion opponents said the bill protects unborn children and allows prosecutors to charge people who cause their deaths through crimes such as assault or drunken driving. Abortion-rights advocates said it was the first step toward banning abortion, which some abortion opponents have acknowledged.
The Senate has approved the fetal homicide bill four times in four sessions of the General Assembly. Four times, though, it didn’t make it through the House.
The Senate also voted this year to allow the state to create a”Choose Life” license plate. A House committee also approved the issue, but it never came up for a full House vote.
Abortion-rights supporters said those limited legislative successes in Kentucky were a catalyst for forming the coalition.
Coalition members also fear that abortion rights are in jeopardy nationally, given Bush’s stance on abortion. Bush describes himself as anti-abortion and supports more restrictions on abortions.
Kim Greene, a Louisville attorney and coalition organizer, said its goal is ”to speak with one voice.” Its members include groups that traditionally advocate abortion rights, including Catholics for a Free Choice and the National Council of Jewish Women.
It also includes other liberal and religious groups, from the Thomas Jefferson Unitarian Church Social Committee to the Fairness Campaign, which lobbies for gay rights in Louisville.
Montgomery has questioned the involvement of one group, The Kentucky Commission on Women — a state agency. She noted that if a state agency joined her group, the outcry from abortion-rights supporters would be numbing.
Betsy Nowland-Curry, executive director of the Commission on Women, said her agency, whose $269,000 budget comes from state government, favors abortion rights — and always has.
”And, at this point in time, abortions are legal,” she said.
During the past week, One Voice for Choice has sponsored several free discussions focusing on abortion rights. They ranged from a forum at the University of Louisville medical school that examined abortion before the Roe vs. Wade decision to a program on African Americans and reproductive rights.
The last forum — ”Benchmark: The Campaign to Save Roe” — is Thursday.
Greene said the coalition will determine how to proceed after this week’s events.
”We definitely plan to work to maintain the coalition and become a constant voice in the community,” she said.
This article originally appeared in the 1 Aprill 2003 edition of the Courier-Journal.