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Safeguarding Our Abortion Rights

We have an obligation to safeguard the reproductive rights of all women. Any legal restrictions on abortion, including late-term, could prevent even the most conservative Orthodox Jew from following Jewish law, which specifically states that a fetus must be aborted if the mother’s life is in danger.

But with the advent of the anti-choice Bush administration, whose Attorney General John Ashcroft has stated that he opposes legal abortion even in the case of rape or incest, attacks are now mounting to limit this right, guaranteed in the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision. And rather than directly attacking Roe, which conservatives admit they have little chance of overturning, the anti-choice lobby is trying a bit-by-bit approach.

The good news, though, is that Jewish women’s organizations are right out there, loudly protesting such outrages as, for example, the global “gag rule,” which prohibits U.S. government funds from going to any family planning group abroad that counsels or provides abortions. President Bush instituted the gag rule on his very first day in office, after bragging during the campaign that his administration would celebrate life—even as Texas led the nation in executions.

As this issue of LILITH was going to press, the National Council of Jewish Women, Hadassah and the American Jewish Congress’ Commission on Women’s Equality were bombarding Congress with press releases and e-mails that objected to the coyly-named “Unborn Victims of Violence” bill that the House passed on April 26. This bill, which House Republican Lindsey O. Graham of South Carolina introduced in March, purports to protect women against violence. But its real purpose. New York Democrat Jerrold Nadler told The Washington Post on March 16, is “to establish a doctrine, contrary to the Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, that the fetus is a separate person.” The Washington Post also reported that anti-choice Republicans say that they will try to tie abortion, and even contraception restrictions, to spending bills. Former President Bill Clinton had used his veto power to protect the nation from having earlier versions of these bills become law.

At the state level, legislatures this season are trying to attach so-called “conscience clauses”—which allow institutions to deny services to patients—onto legislation aimed specifically at improving women’s health. In New York, a bill requiring, among other things, that insurance companies cover contraceptives for women, was stopped in its tracks late last winter by the noisy protests of the Catholic Church and ultra-conservative Jewish group Agudath Israel. Minnesota National Abortion Rights and Reproductive League reports that the group “Citizens Concerned for Life” have introduced 10 bills that would restrict women’s reproductive rights. Forty-two states have laws on the books requiring forced parental consent and/or 24-hour waiting periods prior to abortions.

USA Today reported in March that  11 states are now considering legislation to force abortion providers to warn patients of a possible connection between abortion and breast cancer. The anti-abortion lobby first seized upon this supposed connection in 1994, basing it upon a study that the medical establishment later universally called flawed. Further studies, reported by such prestigious journals as New England Journal of Medicine and Epidemiology, turned up no such connection. Yet in today’s increasingly anti-woman environment, the anti-choice right may again be succeeding in linking abortion with breast cancer in the minds of the public, especially on Internet sites aimed at teen girls.

To stay up to date on this urgent issue, and to learn what legislative initiatives may be coming up in your own area, check the web sites for NARAL (www.NARAL.org) and The Center for Reproductive Law and Rights (www.CRLP.org).