In the News
The Independent

Thirty Years after US Women Won the Right to Choose, the Fight over Abortion Continues


TODAY, NORMA McCorvey is to deliver an emotional speech at a rally in Texas marking the 30th anniversary of the court ruling that gave American women the constitutional right to an abortion. She will say abortion is utterly wrong. “I’m 100 per cent pro-life. No exceptions. No compromise.”

Thirty years ago Ms McCorvey, 55, had a different view. Young, poor and pregnant, her struggle to have an abortion what what eventually became enshrined in the US Supreme Court ruling known to a generation of women as Roe vs Wade.

Campaigners on both sides agree that never in the past 30 years have the rights protected by that ruling been under such threat. That Jane Roe – as Ms McCorvey was anonymously known for more than 20 years – should now be campaigning against abortion rights underlines the extent to which the issue remains a bitter political fight that continues to have an extraordinary and divisive role in American life.

Kate Michelman, president of NARAL, one of the biggest abortion rights, or pro-choice, campaign groups, said: “A woman’s right to choose is probably in the greatest danger since Roe vs Wade was handed down.” That assessment is based largely on simple arithmetic. With the exception of the first five months of George Bush’s presidency – when Jim Jeffords’ switch from the Republicans gave control of the Senate to the Democrats – never in the past 30 years have the White House, the Senate and the House been controlled by Republicans.

Even during the mid-Nineties, when several anti-abortion measures passed both houses of Congress, President Bill Clinton was in a position to enforce a presidential veto to any such legislation. The present incumbent, a born-again Christian like many of those opposed to abortion, is not so minded.

Indeed anti-abortion, or pro-life, campaigners praise Mr Bush and his administration for what they have done to support them. They highlight Mr Bush’s proclamation that last Sunday should be known as National Sanctity of Human Life Day when “Americans reaffirm our commitment to respecting the life and dignity of every human being”.

Sandy Rios, president of the pro-life group Concerned Women for America, said: ” Mr Bush has done more, practically speaking, than any other president.” That abortion should remain such an issue astounds many, not only in Europe, where to a greater or lesser degree a woman’s right to chose is accepted, but to those involved in the original court action.

Sarah Weddington, the lawyer from Austin who took Ms McCorvey’s case to the Supreme Court in Washington, said: “When we won Wade, if anyone had said to me that I would still be talking about this in 30 years, I would not have believed them. Lots of women my age remember where they were when they heard of the judgment. People did realise the significance of it at the time but they did not think it would still be an issue now.”

Pro-choice campaigners say the hand of the pro-lifers has never been so strong because of the growing emergence of the Christian fundamentalist right as a force within the Republican Party and of its close links to the present administration in particular. Tracy Ammons, chief Senate lobbyist for the Christian Coalition group, said: “If we have anything to say about it, there won’t be a 31st anniversary.”

Already the Republicans in Congress are planning to enforce restrictions on abortion, specifically banning the procedure known as “partial birth abortion” and to make it a federal crime to accompany a minor to another state to have an operation without the prior consent of her parents. There have also been moves to increase the rights afforded to an unborn fetus.

At a state level, NARAL has identified at least 34 pieces of legislation introduced across America last year which it claims restrict a woman’s right to an abortion. Pro-choice campaigners also point out that the Supreme Court – which could ultimately overturn Roe vs Wade – is finely balanced with three of the nine judges opposed to abortion, three in favour and three who think there should be greater restrictions.

Frances Kissling, president of the pro-choice group Catholics for a Free Choice, said: “The anti-abortionists have been very skilful in the past 10 years. There is now much less talk about being anti-abortion and much more talk of being pro-life. They have created a climate where it is acceptable for an elected official to be anti-abortion.”

One person who realised that abortion would remain an issue was Harry Blackmun, the Supreme Court judge who wrote the Roe vs Wade decision for the 7-2 majority. He died in 1999 and his headstone in Arlington cemetery bears the words, Humility, Intelligence, Compassion and Courage.

One of his three daughters, Susan, said the night her father came home to write the opinion, “he asked each of us what we thought of abortion. My mother gave a conservative answer, my sister Sally said something a bit more to the left, my other sister Nancy said something else, and then there was me, who was left-wing at the time. At this point, my father got up and said, I have a headache. I’m going to bed’.”

The article courtesy of the Independent.


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