Monday, March 13, 2006


Edwards: Ulcers Over Abortion Legislation - March 13

Lauren EdwardsBy Lauren Edwards,* right

My stomach has hurt a lot lately -- and not from the normal fast food that I eat. The pain began while I was listening to NPR's Morning Edition. I knew that the whole nonsense surrounding Harriet Miers' nomination to the Supreme Court was over, but now a new nominee was named, Judge Samuel Alito. Immediately I began getting updates from feminist groups. I would have liked to write off their concerns as biased, maybe just because Bush recommended him -- that seems to be enough for some these days. Then I began hearing more alarming information and the pain intensified. Again on NPR there were reports that Alito had written thank-you notes to several groups, including Focus on the Family, for their support (included in that note was a reference to his doing the right thing as a Justice).

Then an interesting case appeared before the Supreme Court, Sheidler et al, v. NOW. On February 28 the Supreme Court voted 8-0, in which they undid the applicability of the ever-important Racketeer-Influenced and Corrupt Organization (RICO) law to abortion protestors. RICO had resulted in dramatically reducing violence and violent threats against abortion clinics. With this new decision, I felt a new pull on my stomach -- Are women going to be afraid to go to clinics once again?

And now South Dakota has gone and made abortion illegal, except in the case in which the woman's life in endangered. Mississippi's similar law is expected to pass in the legislature this week, not to mention the restrictions on teenagers' access to abortion in Kansas. In my search I came across another state law gone awry I was not aware of. In Missouri, a law took effect in September that allows lawsuits against anyone who helps a teen get an abortion, even when they go to another state like Illinois. I think at this point I may have an ulcer -- women's private health and reproductive decisions are being criminalized again.

South Dakota is enough, though -- one test case that might bring the end of Roe. It might not -- but it might -- and that is enough for me to be concerned. Abortion is claimed by conservatives to be a state issue, but only because that is where they think they would have the most control. I don't even want to think about what might happen in Texas, where abortion would likely become illegal again. Then again, I can't really see how "pro-lifers" want to criminalize abortion again, if they truly take life so seriously.

The picture before the legalization of abortion was life threatening, because illegal abortion does not mean NO abortion. Instead, the consequences are far greater. Illegal abortion really means unregulated, dangerous abortions. Without the option for safe abortion, women are likely to choose the dangerous sort, a choice I do not wish for anybody. Everyone grimaces when there are reports of babies left right after birth in bathroom stalls in malls and garbage containers. This would be the sort of thing that would become more common, though, along with attempts at abortion with coat hangers and other unhygienic situations.

But maybe there is hope in this era of the right wing basically undoing themselves -- shooting themselves in the foot, which is the best outcome for us pro-choicers, as it takes very little effort and energy on our part. Newsweek and U.S. New & World Report have reported on national groups like the Family Research Council which on their website (that's an eye-opening website -- www.frc.org) backed South Dakota. But in a March 13 article by Dan Gilgoff in U.S. News & World Report, the president of FRC says, "This isn't part of a greater strategy. It's a spontaneous response by legislators to the courts." That greater strategy, FRC claims, was to chip away abortion rights, not go all out so quickly. The chief sponsor of the bill would not even talk to the National Right To Life Committee, according to a Newsweek's March 6 article. So excited by a more conservative court, the religious right just might continue to unravel themselves.

But alas, this possible self-destruction by the religious right does not take away the pains in my belly. Activism is always needed -- always warranted -- and always takes more time. I wasn't born yet to see the enactment of Roe, but maybe I will be alive to see the private choices of women continually protected. At least that's what I am working toward.

*Lauren Edwards is working toward a Masters in Public Administration at the University of North Texas in Denton. She receive a B.A. in Church Ministry and Sociology from Hardin-Simmon University in Abilene in 2003. Lauren is married to Brian, a Baptist youth minister.

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