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Suffragists on HBO; Ashcroft Seeks Abortion Files

Saturday, February 14, 2004

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(WOMENSENEWS)--


Cheers

A female "buddy flick" telling the story of two friends who successfully waged the battle for all U.S. women's right to vote debuts Sunday night on HBO, the cable channel--suffragist Alice Paul's birthday.

"Iron Jawed Angels," the era's sobriquet for the iron-willed suffragists after they organized and executed hunger strikes, honors the women responsible for women gaining the right to vote 84 years ago.

To gain the right, Paul (played by Hilary Swank) and her chum Lucy Burns (Frances O'Connor) defied a popular war-time president, Woodrow Wilson, and challenged the cautious strategies of the National American Woman Suffrage Association leaders Carrie Chapman Catt (Anjelica Huston) and Ann Howard Shaw (Lois Smith).

As the film opens, Catt and Shaw had spent much of their adult lives challenging voting laws state by state. Deciding a national approach was required, Paul and Burns began repeatedly defying the stuffy Catt's objections, going so far as to lead a delegation to confront President Woodrow Wilson and later raising their own funds to publish a newspaper calling for women to boycott Wilson in the next election.

In response to the upstarts, Catt called for an association board investigation into the younger suffragists' expenditures. Enraged, the younger suffragists left to form the National Woman's Party, which opposed any candidate objecting to women's suffrage.

Picketing outside the White House, Paul, Burns and scores of other female members of the National Woman's Party were arrested and jailed. In the workhouse, Paul began a hunger strike and the others followed, eventually embarrassing Wilson into supporting a woman's suffrage amendment, which became law on Aug 26, 1920.



Jeers

U.S. Attorney General John Ashcroft this week subpoenaed the medical records of patients who received in the last three years what the Justice Department is terming partial-birth abortions at least six hospitals in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago and Ann Arbor, Mich. The subpoenas were first reported in Crain's Modern Healthcare, a health care business news weekly.

Ashcroft has rejected calls from Congressional Democrats and abortion rights groups to drop the demands, saying that the records were essential to the department's legal defense of a new law banning so-called partial birth abortions.

A group of doctors have sued to overturn the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, signed into law last November, saying that they have performed abortions that were medically necessary but that would now be banned under the new law. Medical experts have said no such procedure exists and the vaguely worded law could ban all abortions past the 12th week of pregnancy. The law has no health exception.

A Chicago federal judge Charles P. Kocoras rejected the subpoena applications this week, saying that the decision to have an abortion is a decision "indisputably of the most sensitive stripe," a decision that should be allowed to be made, "without the fear of public disclosure."

However, a New York federal judge, Richard Conway Casey, responded to the New York hospitals' resistance to the subpoenas by threatening to lift his own federal injunction preventing enforcement of the abortion ban. Conway said, "I will not let the doctors hide behind the shield of the hospital. Is that clear? I am fed up with stalls and delays."

-- Emma Pearse