Limit Access, Stack the Court

The Right-Wing Map to Outlawing Abortion

Then there's the Child Custody Protection Act, introduced by Republican representative Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Florida, which tries to trump state parental-notification laws by setting up a byzantine procedure under which a pregnant minor first has to get parental permission or approval by a judge in her own state. Getting a hearing can take weeks, and applicants risk having their cases heard by antiabortion judges or assigned to antiabortion guardians. Because of its obvious risks to young people, this bill is often called the Teen Endangerment Act by pro-choicers.

With his Unborn Victims of Violence Act, conservative poster boy Lindsey Graham would essentially establish two sets of constitutional rights, one for the woman and the other for the fetus. It's this legislation, which passed the House last session by 254 to 172, that has the pro-choice lobbyists most worried. Unborn Victims is on what looks to be a fast track, with hearings starting as soon as March 15.

Pro-choicers also expect the new White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives to jump into the fray, redirecting funds to religious agencies, hospitals, and crisis-pregnancy centers that not only oppose abortion but in some cases try to frighten women into carrying their embryos to term. Funding them will be a perfect example of how Bush intends to use churches as a political tool to change social behavior.

Fetal Position: Trying to put abortion out of reach
photo: Michael Sofronski
Fetal Position: Trying to put abortion out of reach

The right wing starts the fight with gaping holes in its attack. Two rabid antiabortion lawmakers—Charles Canaday of Florida and Tom Coburn of Oklahoma—are gone. Neither House nor Senate leaders will stick their necks out on the issue lest they risk alienating moderate Republicans like Maryland's Connie Morella or Connecticut's Nancy Johnson. The Senate has 47 solid anti-choicers, but the body has 18 swing votes as well. Two Republican senators—Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both of Maine—are strongly pro-choice, and sometimes, so are Louisiana's shrewd Mary Landrieu and West Virginia's cagey Robert Byrd.

Groups that help women terminate pregnancies themselves report a rising number of calls for information. They're quietly giving new life to Jane, which was formed in Chicago during the early 1970s as an ad hoc referral service for women seeking safe, but then illegal, abortions.

At one time, Jane included some 200 "friendship groups" trained in menstrual extraction and herbal techniques, says Rebecca Chalker. Though their services haven't yet been called for, she says, "there are a few thousand women across the country who have these skills and could reactivate them at any time."

But what worked back then might not work now. "If abortion is outlawed, I don't think a new Jane could exist," she says. "They were operating a barely underground service that took a good deal of official blindness to go on for as long as it did. Women will have to form small underground groups that would operate below the radar."

Additional reporting: Rouven Gueissaz and Adam Gray

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