Roe v. No

The fight over Alito misses the daily defeat of legal abortion

As California voters weighed Prop 73, California priests were given homily notes for the last Sunday in October suggesting that they tell their flocks, "Proposition 73 mandates that in such difficult situations, in fact at a time when a young person needs her loving and caring family most of all, the minor is asked to return to her family for love, moral guidance, and support." Even pro-choice Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger backs the measure, saying, "I wouldn't want to have someone take my daughter to a hospital for an abortion or something and not tell me. I would kill him if they do that."

Of course, the minors who might get an abortion without telling their folks are precisely those whose family isn't "loving and caring," and whose father isn't the governor. That's one reason why these restrictions get passed, Saporta says: It's hard for people to understand the way an abortion law might affect families that aren't like theirs.

"What the anti-abortion-rights movement discovered is while there's a commitment to the right to choose to have an abortion, when you combine that right with a vulnerable or unpopular group it's relatively easy to deprive that group of access to abortion," Paltrow says. Indeed, surveys show that while 69 percent of Californians want Roe upheld, only 49 percent oppose Prop 73.

So you can't fault the pro-lifers for bad strategy. In fact, some of the blame for the erosion of abortion rights falls on pro-choice groups that focused narrowly on the fight in D.C. to preserve the wording of Roe, rather than the skirmishes in state capitals. "Only in the last few years have we been able to be more effective at saying what's at stake," says Planned Parenthood of New York City president Joan Malin.

And what's at stake, says Paltrow—in the Alito nomination and in general—is more than abortion. "Abortion is just a single moment in a woman's life," she says. "Very often the defense of Roe is framed in terms of the right to end a pregnancy rather than what women themselves talk about," like their need for health care that responds to them. If pro-choice groups could place abortion in a larger context of family health, the movement might fare better.

"You can still value the fetus and not turn women into criminals if they have a drug problem during pregnancy and they can't get help for it," she says. "You can value the fetus and respect individual decision, or otherwise you have a fundamentalist Christian forced to have a C-section they don't want."

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