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Women's lives, women's choices, women's voices.

reproductive rights, so pollsters tell us, is a very minor issue, below the radar, in this important election year. Yet well over one million people came to Washington, D.C., for the March for Women's Lives on April 25--at least a quarter million more than participated in the similar march in 1992. Among the 1,400 organizations that sponsored the 2004 march were Americans for Religious Liberty and the American Humanist Association.

Clearly, new focus and attention need to be concentrated on the continuing and increasing threats to women's lives and liberties, and that is precisely what Planned Parenthood of America President Gloria Feldt does in her important new book, The War on Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back (Bantam Books, 2004, 326 pp., $12.00). As an activist and advocate for women's rights and reproductive rights for fifty years and as a board member of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (formerly the Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights) since its founding in 1973, I can state unequivocally that with this new volume Feldt has provided us with the most comprehensive and detailed survey of the growing but all-too-often scarcely visible attacks on women's and reproductive rights available today. It is a must-read.

One documented attack that did get some media attention was Congress' passage and court-selected President George W. Bush's signing of a bill (twice vetoed by former President Bill Clinton) to outlaw so-called partial-birth abortions, a nonmedical propaganda buzzword invented by anti-choicers to mislabel an accepted procedure known to the medical community as intact dilation and extraction (D&X). (On June 1, after this column was written, San Francisco-based US District Judge Phyllis Hamilton, in a 117 -page decision, ruled the PBA law unconstitutional on the grounds that it placed an undue burden on women, was dangerously vague, and lacked an exception, required by the Supreme Court in 2000 in the Stenberg v. Carhart ruling, for medical procedures needed to preserve a woman's health.) In a speech to the Women's National Democratic Club last December in Washington, I stated that the PBA bill would never have seen the light of day if women had been proportionately represented in Congress. Solid majorities of women in both houses voted against the bill but only 15 percent of members of Congress are female, compared to about 40 percent in Scandinavian countries.

Far too many Americans take for granted the U.S. Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling that recognized that the constitutional right to privacy covers every woman's right to decide for herself if and when to become a mother and whether or not to continue a problem pregnancy.

In her book Gloria Feldt details not only the persistent federal and state legislative and judicial attacks on abortion rights, which began soon after the ink was dry on Roe v. Wade, but also the increasing tempo of attacks on contraception, emergency contraception, and comprehensive sexuality education, both domestically and internationally. The attacks began in the early 1970s with the Hyde amendment, continued under the Reagan administration and that of erstwhile family planning supporter George H. W. Bush (whom comics described as putting his manhood in trust), fell back during the Clinton years, and then accelerated like a bat out of Hades under Bush II. The courts themselves began backing away from Roe v. Wade, allowing Congress and states to curtail reproductive health services for poor women, to render reproductive health care increasingly inaccessible through state-mandated misinformation, unnecessary waiting periods, parental notification, and promotion of abstinence-only "education." (When asked at a press conference in 2002 about the efficacy of abstinence-only programs, Catholics for a Free Choice President Frances Kissling responded, "If it doesn't work well in Catholic seminaries, why should we expect it to work anywhere else?") And a new study recently found that 88 percent of young women who had taken a celibacy pledge broke it not long after.

Not content with attacking the reproductive rights of women and elevating invented fetal, embryonic, and blastocyst "rights" over those of women in the United States, the religious right and the Catholic bishops (please note that most lay Catholics are pro-choice and that some of the strongest supporters of reproductive choice in Congress are Catholic Democrats), the religious right and its myrmidons in Congress have pulled out all the stops to curtail reproductive choice in poor countries, even to the extent of hampering AIDS/HIV protection with condoms. In 2002, disregarding the views of his own advisers, Bush withheld $34 million that Congress had appropriated for the United Nations Population Fund.

Especially tragic is the fact that both in the United States and abroad U.S. cutoffs of family planning and AIDS/HIV programs, coupled with a foolish insistence on abstinence education, are contributing directly to the deaths and medical problems of many thousands of women, to the orphaning of uncounted thousands of children, to the spread of AIDS, and to serious aggravation of population/resource problems.

And all this is in the name of fundamentalist dogmatism, behind which lurks the age-old paternalistic drive to dominate, subjugate, oppress, downgrade, and silence women.

Gloria Feldt spells it all out in this indispensable new book. Get your copy today.

Edd Doerr is president of Americans for Religious Liberty and immediate past-president of the American Humanist Association.
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Title Annotation:Church & State
Author:Doerr, Edd
Publication:The Humanist
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jul 1, 2004
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