Wisconsin: No Choice for Women

By Mary Lou Greenberg

Revolutionary Worker #959, May 31, 1998

We got a glimpse recently of what it could look like if certain abortion procedures are made illegal. On Thursday, May 14, all clinics and doctors in the state of Wisconsin stopped doing all abortions because of a recently passed state law which bans "intact dilation and extraction" abortions (intact d&e)--so-called "partial-birth" abortions. Because of the way the law is worded, it could be interpreted to mean that all abortions are illegal.

The law defines a "child" as "a human being from the time of fertilization until it is completely delivered"! Then it states that anyone who "partially vaginally delivers a living child, causes the death of the partially delivered child with the intent to kill the child and then completes the delivery of the child" is guilty of a Class A felony and will get life imprisonment. By that definition, a just-fertilized egg expelled through the woman's vagina could be considered an aborted "child!"

Similar laws have been passed in 24 states; in at least half of these, the laws have been challenged in court, and judges have blocked their enforcement. But when the law was challenged in Wisconsin, the federal judge refused to block the law and said it could be enforced while he hears arguments on its constitutionality. This immediately put at risk all doctors and clinics doing abortions. (None of the other laws have penalties as harsh as that in the Wisconsin law.)

Doctors reported that women broke down in tears when their appointments were cancelled. Some women, later along in their pregnancies, were referred to clinics in other states. Some were rescheduled, in the hope that the decision will be reversed soon on appeal. But for everyone, it was a brutal and bitter taste of the reality that lies in store for millions of women if such laws are passed and allowed to stand.

Fortunately, some doctors and clinics in Wisconsin resumed doing abortions a few days later. The decision to let the law stand was immediately appealed but, as of this writing, has not yet been ruled on. Nationally, a similar law has been passed by both houses of Congress, and Clinton has stated he would sign such a bill if it made an exception for the life and health of the woman. (Clinton is not opposed in principle to a ban on intact d&e abortions.)

The ban on intact d&e represents a further "eating away" at the right to choose. It is part of a many-sided assault--from bombings and other attacks on abortion clinics, to the campaign of disinformation by the anti-abortion movement aimed at creating public opinion against abortion in general, to Clinton's insistence that abortion should be "legal but rare."

The situation in Wisconsin is not only a wake-up call as to just how fragile the "right" to abortion really is--it also shows that what is needed to meet these attacks is a firm spirit of resistance and refusal to go along with such vicious laws.

Mary Lou Greenberg is the spokesperson for the NY Branch of the Revolutionary Communist Party, and a long-time activist in the fight for reproductive rights.

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