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Choosing our future now.

Choosing Our Future Now

In the increasingly heated atmosphere of debate surrounding reproductive rights, how is adequate public policy sensitive to issues of reproductive freedom and gender equality to be formulated? Reproductive Laws for the 1990s: A Briefing Handbook developed by the Women's Litigation Clinic at Rutgers Law School, offers guidance for health officials, legislators, and activists. The product of a two-year project directed by law professor Nadine Taub, the Handbook calls for comprehensive assessment of existing laws and services affecting reproductive choices to replace the current model of piecemeal legislation, and offers a "Reproductive Rights Agenda for the 1990s" as a starting point for policy development.

The project identified six major areas of concern, each of which is addressed in position papers in the Handbook: time limits on abortion, prenatal screening, the fetus as patient, reproductive hazards in the workplace, interference with reproductive choice, and alternative modes of reproduction. Concern for women's reproductive autonomy and attention to the social and economic contexts in which reproductive choices are made inform discussion throughout.

Position papers are acutely sensitive to the coercive powers of the state with regard to issues of time limits on abortion, prenatal screening, and the fetus as patient. They argue that the state must not coerce women into becoming parents by restricting abortion choices--"an awesome infringement of autonomy"--nor infringe upon their constitutional right "to be free of coerced medical treatment and compelled physical invasion" by mandating prenatal screening and/or imposing legal sanctions for refusal of such testing. Similarly, we are cautioned that granting "some sort of full legal personhood of the pregnant woman. This position paper stresses that "(s)ociety's relationship to the fetus must be mediated by the woman in whose body it is."

In examining issues of reproductive hazards in the workplace, position papers note that "fetal protection" policies may exclude women from many types of employment while continuing to allow other workers to be exposed to hazardous substances. Arguing that such exclusionary policies are based on misguided premises--among them, that the fetus "is always hypersusceptible" and that "injury to a fetus or subsequently born child can occur only through maternal exposure"--they call for setting workplace safety and health standards "to protect all workers."

Interference with reproductive choice, by discouraging access to abortion or harassing women who seek abortions, denying access to new reproduction technologies to disabled or poor women or women of color, attempting to control pregnant women's behavior, or other means, is seen as a significant social issue. In response, this position paper boldly proposes "a statute that creates a tort cause of action for all types of interference with reproductive choice."

Finally, with regard to alternative modes of reproduction, those values that should be promoted in designing legislation to address reproductive technologies are identified: infertility should be put into a larger social context; women should have control over their bodies, their gametes, and their conceptuses; women should not be exploited; there should not be prior screening for fitness of parenthood; reproduction should not be medicalized; and alternative family arrangements should be allowed.

As the introduction to the "Reproductive Rights Agenda" notes,

Defining our goals is essential to achieving them. By taking the time now to articulate our vision of the future and grapple with the many hard questions that surround reproduction--questions about sexuality, childbearing, and parenting--we can develop and build a consensus about the basic premises of our work.

The Handbook is designed to ground policy debate and development that is sensitive to the complex and often poignant issues implicated by reproductive technologies. Further information on the project is available from the Women's Rights Litigation Clinic, Rutgers School of Law, 15 Washington Street, Newark, NJ.

Empty Cages...

If Ann Landers's daily column is any indicator of lay concerns, "animal rights" has arrived as an issue for the general public. One recent column (6 October 1988) was devoted entirely to the subject; "adorable monkeys and precious dogs" are tugging at our heart strings in a whole new way. But how far should we go in advocating their welfare?

Tactics employed by animal rights activists have lately taken an alarming turn. Letters of appeal with photographs like that received by Ann Landers's correspondent are subtly coercive, designed to shock, to prompt compassionate outrage. No longer content with such appeals to ethics, compassion, or our emotional sensibilities, however, newer and more aggressive groups among the over 7,000 animal welfare organizations in the United States are resorting to violence to achieve their goals. Since 1980 hundreds of laboratory animals have been stolen, scientific records destroyed, and millions of dollars of property damage inflicted in "raids of liberation" carried out by groups like the Animal Liberation Front (ALF), Band of Mercy, and the Animal Rights Militia.

Activism, it seems, is transmuting into outright terrorism. An international conference on terrorism held in England this year joined "animal liberation" to discussions of terrorism in Ireland and the Middle East. And indeed, ALF has been identified as a terrorist organization--one that uses illegal force to make its point--by the California state attorney general and Scotland Yard (American Medical News, 26 August 1988, 12).

More chilling, however, is the arrest of Fran Stephanie Trutt on 11 November 1988 on charges of attempting to kill the president of a surgical equipment firm that uses animals in testing new devices and procedures. Ms. Trutt had planted a radio-controlled pipe bomb, intending to kill Leon C. Hirsch as he walked from his car to his office that day. Ms. Trutt did not claim to belong to any particular animal rights group--nor do any seem to want to claim kinship with her--but avowed herself an animal rights activist (New York Times, 13 November 1988, 40; Wall Street Journal, 14 November 1988, A6).

With or without the sanction of animal welfare organizations, some crusaders are willing to bring violence to a very personal level. Taking a human life, for Ms. Trutt it seems, is an acceptable way to empty the laboratory cages.
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Title Annotation:reproductive rights
Author:Crigger, Bette-Jane
Publication:The Hastings Center Report
Date:Jan 1, 1989
Previous Article:Preserving Life: Public Policy and the Life Not Worth Living.
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