Stand Up and Be Counted

First Webster, then Louisiana’s new anti-choice legislation, and now the “Gag Rule,” approved by the Supreme Court on May 23.

For the pro-choice American, things have gone from bad to repressive to simply frightening. The Court’s decision this spring in Rust v. Sullivan, known as the “Gag Rule” because of its stifling effect on the power of physicians to inform pregnant women of all their alternatives, mandates that physicians in clinics with federal funding be forbidden to mention the option of abortion to a pregnant woman coming in for treatment—even in a case in which carrying a baby to term may endanger the woman’s life, even in a case of rape or incest, even a case in which a poor or uninformed woman may risk her life with a back-alley abortion.

The Court’s ruling, if enacted, will require further that when a pregnant woman asks any medical professional about the option of abortion, the doctor respond by telling her that “abortion is not an appropriate method of family planning.” In a statement that is, to civil libertarians, rife with Orwellian implications. Chief Justice Rehnquist defended the restriction placed on the speech of doctors, saying that the Supreme Court decision does not “significantly impinge on the doctor-patient relationship,” because patients who go to clinics should not expect “comprehensive medical advice.”

As the American Jewish Committee points out in an outraged response to the recent ruling, the new law not only restricts what a doctor can say, but may compel her/him to make a statement about abortion in which s/he does not believe.

Despite the U.S. court system’s general move to the right on the question of choice since the Webster ruling two years ago (July 3, 1989), the Court’s decision in Rust V. Sullivan has come as a shock to many. Feminist and pro-choice groups, long in the trenches on this issue, have organized emergency letter-writing campaigns; LILITH has also gotten word of calls to action by such Jewish organizations as the United Synagogue of America, the American Jewish Committee, Na’Amat USA, B’nai B’rith Women, Hadassah, the New Jewish Agenda, and the National Council of Jewish Women. The Gag Rule seems to have touched a nerve in the First- Amendment consciousness of many Americans, and groups that had never before identified themselves as pro-choice have begun speaking out against the Court’s decision.

It is hoped that the combined voices of these groups will be enough to reverse this ruling before clinics whose workers refuse to comply begin closing, for lack of federal funding.