(WOMENSENEWS)–“Is this the last anniversary of Roe v. Wade?”
That was the question on the poster calling people to a pro-choice rally on the capitol’s steps in Denver Thursday for “Justice, Access, Freedom, Roe.”
With a new urgency, pro-choice groups across the country are convening this week and next to mark the 33rd anniversary of the decision of the U.S. Supreme Court that prevents states from outlawing abortion in all circumstances.
“It’s really important for our children and our grandchildren that abortion does not go back to the back alley,” said Betty Serotta, executive director of the Colorado Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, one of the Denver rally sponsors. Serotta, a grandmother, considers herself fortunate to have been able to obtain a legal abortion after Roe was decided on Jan. 22, 1973.
This year, Roe is at the top of the news.
The U.S. Supreme Court released its first decision on an abortion case in five years on Wednesday, a unanimous but mixed ruling. On Monday, the Senate Judiciary Committee is expected to vote on Samuel Alito, a Bush Supreme Court nominee widely seen as hostile to abortion rights.
Meanwhile, abortion is already in trouble in hostile legislatures in a majority of states, NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a report released this week.
Now, between Jan. 20 and Jan. 26, tens of thousands of anti-abortion protesters are expected to throng the nation’s capital in an annual March for Life. On the opposite coast, a smaller walk will take place in San Francisco on Saturday.
Acknowledging Lost Ground
Roe supporters know they have been losing ground.
“We, along with the entire pro-choice community, will be in a somber mood during this Roe anniversary date,” said Jennifer Blei Stockman, co-chair of the Republican Majority for Choice, headquartered in Washington. The group will spend the anniversary conducting a communication blitz urging moderate Republicans to oppose Alito.
A Supreme Court opinion on abortion in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood of Northern New England issued Wednesday highlighted the central role of moderate Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, whom Alito would replace.
O’Connor wrote the opinion for a unanimous court. She gave some ground to anti-abortion positions, but also prevented other encroachments on abortion rights. The Ayotte decision, on a matter of details of a parental notification law, reaffirms that any restrictions on abortion must provide protections for a woman’s health, a victory for pro-choice advocates.
At the same time, however, the opinion altered a critical legal standard, making it a partial victory for anti-abortion groups. That standard–under which abortion restrictions could be thrown out as unconstitutional–now calls on courts to first determine whether portions of the law might be salvaged in some way.
The federal district court for New Hampshire will now review the law again. Pro-choice activists are worried because it may green-light anti-abortion legislation by making it harder to challenge state laws that seek to evade or circumvent constitutional provisions, said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America in Washington, D.C.
“We may not know the full impact of this decision on the lives of American women for years to come,” said Keenan.
NARAL Pro-Choice counted a record 615 anti-choice measures introduced in the states in 2005 in its just-released 15th annual report, “Who Decides,” which rates states on reproductive health care. Over one-third of the states received a failing “F” grade for passage of anti-abortion and anti-contraception restrictions. Another 11 received a “D.”
“It’s not only about abortion anymore, but birth control, pharmacy access, emergency contraception,” said Keenan. “There are anti-choice legislatures everywhere.”
Anti-choice groups are amassing in Washington, D.C. this week for what is referred to as a “pilgrimage” by the Catholic Archdiocese of New York. Under the theme “Roe v. Wade Violates the American Way,” events include masses, demonstrations, networking and speakers.
The Culture of Life Foundation, an international anti-abortion organization based in Washington, D.C., will sponsor a talk on “How the Abortion Pill is Killing Girls and Why the Pro-Choice Feminists Don’t Care” by Wendy Wright from the Washington-based Concerned Women for America. Anti-choice bloggers will gather for their first-ever in-person meeting at the headquarters of the Family Research Council in Washington.
The pro-choice DC Abortion Fund, which helps low-income women pay for abortions, is holding “Pledge A Protestor,” asking people to use their checkbooks to counteract demonstrations.
“Their presence, even though we don’t like it, will help raise funds for women,” said Laura, a member of the group’s coordinating committee who asked that her last name not be used for fear of harassment. “There’s so much distress in general about abortion access and abortion rights, it seems a way to counterbalance,” she said.
On the opposite coast, Saturday, Jan. 21, will be the touchdown day.
In its second year, the anti-abortion Walk for Life will bring 55 busloads to San Francisco, said organizer Eva Muntean. “A lot of us on the West Coast would like to go to Washington, but we can’t.” Walk participants are asked to avoid graphic signs of aborted fetuses. Organizers will provide signs saying “Women Deserve Better Than Abortion.”
‘U.S. Out of My Uterus’
Pro-choice counter-protestors promise to be more spicy, said Anita O’Shea of Radical Women, part of the Bay Area Coalition for Our Reproductive Rights. Along with balloons, banners will say “U.S. Out of My Uterus.”
“This is our day,” O’Shea said. “Roe v. Wade was an important landmark in our history as women.”
Other communities will honor the anniversary as well.
In Eugene, Planned Parenthood Health Services of Southwestern Oregon will host a physician’s talk about sexual imagery in the media and women’s health care followed by spoken-word poet Jorah La Fleur on Saturday, said Kellie Shoemaker, vice president of public affairs.
In New York, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health is co-sponsoring a free screening on Friday night of “Rosita,” a 2005 film by Barbara Attie and Janet Goldwater about a Costa Rican family that grapples with the rape and pregnancy of a 9-year-old daughter.
In Richmond, Planned Parenthood Advocates of Virginia is gearing up for a pro-choice Lobby Day on Feb. 2 to fight 15 anti-choice bills in the state legislature. “I’m telling everyone I know we need to invest in advocacy like our lives depended on it,” said Karen Raschke, president and CEO of the Virginia League for Planned Parenthood in Virginia. “Our patients’ lives do depend on it.”
Cynthia L. Cooper is an independent writer in New York who writes frequently about reproductive health and justice.
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For more information:
NARAL Pro-Choice America
“Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights
in the United States”:
March for Life:
DC Abortion Fund:
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