January 29, 2006

US abortion rights groups say battle being lost

By Carey Gillam

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) - In Wichita, Kansas,
abortion rights supporters held a "chili for choice"
fund-raising dinner. In Pierre, South Dakota, they plotted
strategy in the "Back Alley" meeting hall. And in Minneapolis,
volunteers led women past protesters into an abortion clinic.

It was just a typical week in Middle America where the
decades-old debate over abortion rights has become a full-blown
battle. But even as they continue to raise money and march
around state capitols, the view from the pro-choice side is
this is a fight they are losing.

The expected Senate confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court
of conservative jurist Samuel Alito, who is favored by
anti-abortion advocates, is seen as a key turning point. Yet it
is only the latest in a series of blows to abortion rights

The pro-choice groups find themselves facing a virtual
avalanche of state legislation that ranges from laws banning
abortions in almost all circumstances to laws limiting the
disbursement of birth control and restricting sex education.

President George W. Bush is a vocal supporter of the
anti-abortion movement. Conservative church groups across the
country increasingly oppose abortion.

"I think Roe in the short term will be dismantled," said
Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. "We have
an anti-choice president, an anti-choice Congress and now ...
with the confirmation of Judge Alito to the Supreme Court, we
are seeing the potential for a very right-leaning, anti-choice
Supreme Court."


A Pew Research Center survey conducted in November
indicated that a majority of Americans see abortion as the most
important issue before the Supreme Court, and polling shows
that Americans are nearly evenly divided on the topic.

John Green, a senior research fellow at the Pew Forum on
Religion and Public Life, said the appointment of Alito and the
flood of anti-abortion legislation are tied to the increasing
power of conservative religious groups.

"I do think it is a critical moment," Green said. "A lot
really hinges on Alito and other judges who may be appointed in
the near future. I could imagine in the next 10 years or so
there could be steady changes in the law regarding abortion."

Anti-abortion groups say much has changed in the 33 years
since the famed U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe V. Wade
cleared the way for legalized abortion. They acknowledge the
increased power of religious conservatives in public policy,
but say other factors are central to the rise of anti-abortion
legislation and what they say is waning public support for

Among the key factors is enhanced technology, such as 4-D
ultra-sound, that allows pregnant women to clearly view the
features of the fetus they might abort.

"The technology has allowed someone who before had no face
and no voice to become an actual child," said Mary Spaulding
Balch, director of state legislation for the National Right to
Life Committee. "In the 70s and 80s whenever you debated
abortion you talked about the mother. Now the baby is being
brought into the debate."

Anti-abortion advocates say research into the speed of
fetal development, and claims by some women that abortion has
scarred them physically and emotionally, have all helped their

"There is a growing public realization that abortion is an
injustice, the destruction of an innocent human life," said
American Life League executive director David Bereit.

"The presidency, the House and the Senate are made up of
people who claim to be pro-life. With the Supreme Court
nomination ... the planets are all aligning."


Indeed, all fifty states now have anti-abortion legislation
either on the books or in the works, according to both sides.
Twenty-six states outlaw abortions for a woman whose pregnancy
is at least 12 weeks along. Measures introduced in South
Dakota, Tennessee, Indiana and Ohio would ban nearly all
abortions even in the first few weeks of pregnancy.

Other state laws under consideration would extend
counseling requirements or waiting periods for women seeking
abortions, add parental notification requirements, and set new
regulations for abortion clinics. There are also measures that
would allow pharmacists to refuse to dispense birth control.

Abortion rights advocates say this year's mid-term
elections and the 2008 presidential election will be critical
to their efforts to turn back these new laws.

So on Thursday they paid $25 a head to eat chili in
Wichita, Kansas. On Sunday they showed a film and talked about
strategy in Pierre, South Dakota. And every Saturday, they
escort women into a Planned Parenthood clinic in Minneapolis.

"It's a mystery to me how we've elected such right-wing
lawmakers who are trying to keep government off our backs, but
apparently don't mind putting government in our bedrooms," said
Thelma Underberg, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice South
Dakota. "I think it is time to get active and push the pendulum
back the other way."