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Abortion under fire.

A woman's right to choose abortion is in serious jeopardy throughout the United States. In a report entitled The Road to the Back Alley, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) points out that the 104th Congress has racked up the most anti-choice voting record in history. And, last year, in state-houses around the nation, legislative assaults on women's reproductive rights reached record levels.

Even as curtailing abortion rights becomes a major campaign issue in the Republican primary, President Clinton has been signing away access to abortion bit by bit. Federal employees and women in the military no longer have health insurance that covers abortion, and Clinton has yielded to rightwing pressure to cut funds for international family planning.

This steady erosion of abortion rights has been the pro-life movement's strategy for years. Now it is paying off.

Pundits and politicians who describe themselves as pro-choice have been strangely complicit in the effort to chip away at abortion rights.

Naomi Wolf and Elizabeth Fox-Genovese, two writers who present themselves as supporters of women's equality, have both argued recently that feminists ought to take a softer line on abortion.

Fox-Genovese bemoans the Supreme Court's decision, in Planned Parenthood v. Casey, not to require a married woman to obtain her husband's permission before getting an abortion. By refusing to acknowledge men's roles, she writes in her recent book, the Court "implicitly labeled reproduction as solely the responsibility of women."

Wolf claimed, absurdly, in The New Republic, that the pro-choice movement would win more people to its side, and advance the cause of abortion rights, if it publicly declared that abortion is immoral.

This is exactly the kind of thinking that got us where we are today, with access to abortion seriously threatened in all fifty states.

Counseling, moralizing, waiting periods, and parental and spousal consent all sound reasonable to many people. But the real question, which Wolf and Fox-Genovese refuse to address, is who should decide whether an abortion will be allowed. Will women have the right to choose what happens to their own bodies, or will they have to throw themselves on the mercy of husbands, parents, and judges?

As part of the anti-abortion strategy, reasonable-sounding laws limiting access to abortion are growing more onerous every day. "Rather than helping women, these laws are designed to confuse, delay, and coerce women into bearing unwanted children," NARAL president Kate Michelman points out.

The sneakiness of the pro-life strategy is currently on display in Wisconsin, where domestic-violence legislation known as the "feticide bill" sets strict penalties for batterers who assault and kill women. If the woman is pregnant, and both she and her fetus die, the penalties are even more strict. This is an attempt by pro-lifers to woo liberals by exploiting the issue of domestic violence. The aim is to establish a legal precedent for punishing "fetal homicide."

"It has nothing to do with concerns about the pregnant woman," says Severa Austin, president of Planned Parenthood of Wisconsin. "What they are doing is attempting to give a fetus a legal status that does not now exist."

Women's rights, and the value of our lives, must not change in the eyes of the law depending on whether or not we are pregnant.

The least the most timid among us can do is not to be taken in by the pro-life strategy to impose more and more restrictions on abortion. The right to choose means the right to follow one's own conscience, without government interference. Nothing could be more crucial to our freedom.
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Copyright 1996, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Publication:The Progressive
Date:Apr 1, 1996
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