The battle to defend a woman’s right to choose moved to the front burner this week as the NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Organization for Women and other organizations rallied their forces to defeat right-wing efforts to undermine, and eventually overturn, the Supreme Court’s 1973 Roe v. Wade decision legalizing abortion.
In her speech at a banquet attended by 1,300 supporters on Jan. 21, NARAL President Kate Michelman reminded her audience that Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackman, author of the majority opinion in Roe v. Wade, once said he feared for its future because “a chill wind blows.”
“Thirty years later that wind is blowing at gale force,” Michelman said. For the first time since Roe v. Wade, anti-choice politicians control the presidency and both houses of Congress.
Pointing to what Dr. Martin Luther King once described as the “critical urgency of now,” Michelman warned, “The Supreme Court is a vote away from allowing them to dismantle the freedom to choose,” adding that an anti-choice president and Congress were “eager to install the one justice who could take our freedom away.”
Michelman warned that various state legislatures have enacted 335 anti-choice bills since 1995, each of them designed to make it more burdensome – if not impossible – for women to exercise control over when and if to bear children.
Given that, Michelman said “fully half the states would swiftly ban or severely restrict abortion” if Roe is overturned. “If Roe is overturned, women will return to – and die in – the back alleys. If Roe is overturned, women will be forced to bear children against their will – with devastating implications for mother and child alike.”
Michelman said that in order to prevent federal restrictions on the right to choose, the movement is going to need every pro-choice American and every pro-choice member of Congress, including contenders for the Democratic presidential nomination. “Indeed when President Bush sends a Supreme Court nominee to the Senate for confirmation, I fully expect pro-choice Senators to filibuster any candidate who does not uphold a women’s constitutional right to choose.”
While admitting that the path ahead is difficult, Michelman said a women’s right to chose will be saved “the same way we won it – one person at a time, one neighborhood at a time, one community at a time, one state at a time” and that the task before NARAL and other pro-choice organizations is to build a resurgent movement.
“America’s history is woven from such moments – single points in time on which the full weight of a nation’s future turned. They have occurred in many places and taken many forms, but all share a common theme: action. Our daughters will remember this moment – for good or for ill – and they will ask: ‘Did we act?’” NARAL plans to target 20 states with their campaign.
Rep. Louise Slaughter (D-NY) told the banquet that, while the 147-member Pro-choice Congressional Caucus has won only 25 votes in the House, it has “stopped a lot of junk. Now we must mobilize as we have not mobilized for 30 years.”
All six of the announced candidates seeking the Democratic Party presidential nomination spoke, as did a number of leading personalities. In a vigil before the Supreme Court, Kim Gandy, president of NOW, said her group’s focus will be on maintaining the current Supreme Court balance and ensuring that “we will not be the generation that both won and lost reproductive rights in our lifetime.”
NOW chapters across the country are holding vigils and other events on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. NOW activists will also remind Congress of their voting power with a pro-reproductive rights postcard campaign to Senators.
“Thirty years of Roe and we’re still fighting opponents of women’s rights on this issue,” Gandy said, adding: “NOW activists nationwide are determined to ensure that abortion and birth control are safe, legal and accessible.”
NOW has drawn up what it calls the “Bush Check” a five-point check list of far-right tactics for reversing or undermining Roe v. Wade: Establishing the legal principle of fetal personhood, elimination of all federal funding for family planning, restricting access to abortion, making all abortions illegal by reversing Roe v. Wade.
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