New Attacks on Choice

Revolutionary Worker #968, August 9, 1998

It may be summer, but there's been no vacation from attacks on abortion by the government in the last few weeks--from the U.S. capitol to state legislatures and the courts.

On July 15, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the so-called "Child Custody Protection Act" by a vote of 276-150. The next day, this attack on teenage women made it through the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee. The bill now will be considered by the whole Senate. This bill would make it a crime for anyone other than a young woman's parents to take her across state lines for an abortion, if her home state requires parental notification or consent.

This means that if a young woman, for whatever reason, can't or won't tell a parent about her pregnancy--for example, if she's fearful of their reaction, doesn't want to "disappoint them," or is a victim of incest--and instead talks to a sympathetic teacher, another relative or adult friend and they volunteer to take her out-of-state for an abortion, then that adult could be arrested and charged with a crime! The bill, if it becomes law, would result in more young women being forced into having babies they don't want. It will mean more young women dying or being maimed by unsafe procedures, including dangerous, attempted self-induced abortions.

In 1988, 17-year-old Becky Bell died from a back-alley abortion because she didn't want to disappoint her parents by telling them she was pregnant. Although there was a judicial bypass provision to the parental notification law in Indiana, where Becky lived, the judge in her district has never issued a judicial bypass waiver to a teen for an abortion. And young women in small towns know that if they go before a judge, the news will almost certainly get back to their parents!

Despite pious claims about wanting to foster better "communication" between parents and children, the real intent of the lawmakers behind this bill was revealed by House Minority Whip Tom Delay of Texas who was quoted in the Los Angeles Times as saying, before the debate began on the Child Custody Protection Act, "This is the beginning of a long line of things we need to be looking at in regulating abortion in this country."

In fact, there are efforts to prevent teenage women from getting abortions, even when they have parental consent. In mid-July, a judge prohibited a 12-year-old Michigan girl from being taken by her parents to another state to get an abortion. The girl had evidently been impregnated by her 17-year-old brother and was about 27 weeks pregnant when her parents found out. Abortion is illegal in Michigan after the 24th week unless the woman's life is endangered. The judge finally lifted the ban two weeks later, and the girl was able to get the abortion in Wichita, KS where later abortions are permitted under certain circumstances.

(Dr. George Tiller, who does abortions in Wichita, is one of only a handful of doctors in the country who do abortions after 24 weeks. Dr. Tiller was the target of a weeks-long siege by clinic blockaders in 1991; an anti-abortion assassin tried to murder him in 1993 in an attack in which he was shot in both arms. When they heard the girl would likely go to Wichita for the abortion, anti-abortion protesters began heavier-than-usual picketing at the clinic but failed in their efforts to stop the procedure.)

There have also been recent government moves to prevent young women from getting birth control. On July 14, the House Appropriations Committee passed an amendment to the Labor-HHS Appropriations bill that requires parental notification for minors seeking birth control from clinics receiving federal Title X family planning funding. Studies show that when parental consent or notice is mandated by law, particularly in the case of family planning, many adolescents delay or avoid seeking needed care. Numerous medical organizations, including the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Women's Association, the American Society for Reproductive Medicine, and the Society for Adolescent Medicine, support the confidentiality of minors' access to reproductive health care and assert that laws mandating parental involvement actually harm the teens and the families they purport to protect.

Another major attack on abortion rights is the continuing efforts to ban what anti-choice forces call "partial birth abortion." This is a totally unscientific term coined by anti-abortion forces in an effort to make people think that "babies" are being "killed only moments and inches" from being born.

Originally the anti-abortion forces used the term "partial birth" abortion to refer to a certain type of procedure, called Dilation and Extraction (D&X)--which some doctors consider safer and easier for women who need abortions later in their pregnancies. Now, however, the phrase is used most often without reference to any medically recognized procedure. Some state laws against "partial birth" abortions have even been thrown out by judges as being so general that the laws could be interpreted as banning most, or all, abortion procedures. In fact, this IS the real intent of such laws, as we saw recently in Wisconsin where such a law, when upheld by a judge, had the effect of intimidating all abortion providers in the state out of doing ALL procedures by threatening them with criminal charges. (A preliminary injunction against the law was later upheld, which puts the law on hold for the time being and allows abortions to be performed.)

Recently, the U.S. House of Representatives voted to override President Clinton's veto of the so-called "Partial-Birth Abortion Act." At this point it is unclear if the Senate will also get enough votes to override it--which would make the bill the law of the land. But this issue of so-called "partial-birth abortion" will continue to be used to whip up sentiment against abortion generally by equating fetuses with babies and saying that abortion is the same as "murder." While the actual "D&X" procedure has been estimated as being used for only a tiny percentage of all abortions, the debate about "partial-birth" has been used to affect public perceptions of abortion generally, the doctors who provide them, and the women who choose to end unwanted pregnancies.

These recent stepped-up attacks on abortion rights make it even more important for the people to wage a battle for public opinion around the fact that "women are not incubators, fetuses are not children, and abortion is not murder"--and continue to protect and defend clinics and doctors who give women the right to choose.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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