Battle over abortion rights continues

With so many hot political issues currently up for debate such as the conflict in Iraq and the struggling economy, the issue of abortion could be lost in the shuffle. Many pro-choice organizations throughout both the state and the country, however, took action in light of last Thursday’s 31st anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision.

Planned Parenthood, NARAL Pro-Choice and other groups held events in Oregon last week to celebrate the anniversary and speak out against what they see as a nationwide threat to abortion rights.

“Right now, we are at a situation in this country where this right (to an abortion) is under significant threat,” Nancy Bennett, of Planned Parenthood of the Columbia/Willamette said. She also expressed concern that young people may not understand the importance of abortion rights because they cannot remember a time when abortion was illegal.

Over 200 people attended a rally sponsored by both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice (formerly The National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League) Oregon at the Bridgeport Brew Pub last Thursday night, which featured live music and speakers such as State Senator Kate Brown and State Representative Mary Nolan sharing their views on abortion rights.

Mary Oberst, wife of Governor Ted Kulongoski, also made a rare public appearance along with Portland author Ursula K. Le Guin to speak in favor of abortion rights at another NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon event Saturday night.

Organizers hoped that the events would provide people with a connection to the pro-choice community and inspire them to get more involved, according to Bennett.

“Wherever people can stand to get involved there is a need to be involved,” she said.

Both Planned Parenthood and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon were promoting the upcoming “March for Women’s Lives,” in Washington, D.C., on April 25, which is sponsored by a multitude of other groups including the National Organization for Women.

“Our goal is just to make our voices heard,” Bennett said of the planned march. “We want to build a grassroots effort that says, ‘We support these rights.'”

Several PSU students are among those who hope to be in Washington, D.C., for the march.

A group of seven students in a women’s studies class taught by Aimee Shattuck, who is also coordinator of the Women’s Resource Center at PSU, have been discussing reproductive rights issues, and are currently trying to raise funds to travel to Washington, D.C., for the march. Afterward, the students plan to discuss their experiences at the event.

“I think people should educate themselves on legislation and how it affects them personally,” Shattuck said.

Many abortion rights groups are concerned about President George W. Bush’s anti-abortion stance. Since his election, President Bush has been active in formulating anti-abortion legislation. In 2001, he reinstated a “global gag rule,” originally created by the Reagan administration, which denies U.S. funding to foreign family planning agencies which perform or provide counseling on abortions, or lobby to keep abortion legal in their own country.

The issue that many U.S. pro-choice groups are currently concerned with, however, is the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which was signed into law by President Bush in November of 2003. The act bans certain types of second trimester abortions, and does not provide any exceptions for cases where the woman’s life or health is endangered.

“For years, a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches from birth, while the law looked the other way. Today, at last, the American people and our government have confronted the violence and come to the defense of the innocent child,” President Bush said at the signing of the bill.

Many pro-choice groups, however, see the ban as a precursor to further erosions of abortion rights.

“This bill marks a concerted effort to set back decades of progress in achieving reproductive freedom. We expect the court to recognize the unconstitutionality of this ban and strike it down,” Gloria Feldt, President of Planned Parenthood Federation of America said in a press release.

Abortion rights supporters are also concerned about President Bush’s judicial appointments to federal courts; Bennett describes as “anti-choice hardliners.” Most recently, President Bush appointed Charles Pickering, known to be anti-abortion supporter, to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit earlier this month during the Congressional recess, much to pro-choice supporters’ dismay.

“Forcing Pickering’s elevation after Senators rejected him in two separate Congresses is a slap in the face of everyone who believes that government should stay out of our personal decisions. Doing it when you think people won’t be paying attention is the worst kind of political gamesmanship,” Kate Michelman, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said in a press release shortly after Pickering’s appointment.

While the battle over abortion rights continues at a national level, Oregon abortion rights activists would like people to remember that abortion remains an issue at the state level as well.

While Oregon’s abortion laws are currently relatively liberal, receiving an “A” grade from NARAL Pro-Choice America, 78 percent of the state’s counties have no abortion provider.

Also, several bills that would alter abortion rights in Oregon were proposed by state legislators during the 2003 session, including House Bill 2547, which would have created a 24-hour mandatory waiting period and required women to receive counseling before receiving an abortion, and HB 2563, which would have closed all abortion clinics in the state except one.

“We’re not out of the woods in Oregon either,” Bennett said.