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US: Voters reject South Dakota's "Referred Law 6" banning virtually all abortions Print E-mail
London -- Wednesday November 8, 2006

'No abortion' law rejected by voters

AP

"Coat Hanger graffiti" adorning "VOTE YES"

South Dakotans have rejected a law that would have banned virtually all abortions, even in cases of rape and incest.

The outcome was a blow to conservatives, although they prevailed in four other states where voters in yesterday's US elections approved constitutional amendments to ban gay marriage.

Among them was Wisconsin, where gay-rights activists had nursed hopes of engineering the first defeat of such a ban.

Five states passed increases in their minimum wage, while Arizona passed four measures targeting illegal immigrants, including one making English the state's official language. Nationwide, a total of 205 measures were on the ballots in 37 states, but none had been watched as closely by political activists across the country as the South Dakota abortion measure.

Passed overwhelmingly by the legislature earlier this year, it would have allowed abortions only to save a pregnant woman's life.

Had the ban been upheld, abortion-rights supporters would have launched a legal challenge that could have led all the way to the US Supreme Court.
US: Defending abortion as both a fundamental woman's right & a vital tool of contraceptive choice Print E-mail

  November 07, 2006

Abortion and the Politics of Prevention

By Betsy Hartmann

 

On November 7, voters in South Dakota will vote on a referendum whether to adopt the state's draconian law banning abortion. Reproductive rights activists from all over the country are now converging on the state to help mobilize pro-choice voters in an impressive grassroots effort. The stakes for women's health and human rights are very high indeed.

In the corridors of power, however, the liberal conversation about abortion has taken a different turn. In order to woo anti-abortion voters to the Democratic Party, prominent democrats like Hillary Clinton are engaged in re-framing the abortion debate in terms of prevention. Clinton and Senate Minority Leader Harry Reid, an opponent of abortion, have collaborated together on the Putting Prevention First Act. The act's central premise is that most unintended pregnancies and abortions can be prevented if we eliminate barriers that prevent women from having access to affordable and effective contraception. According to Clinton, abortion is "a sad, even tragic choice to many, many women."

What is wrong with the abortion prevention framework?

Clearly, women should have access to affordable and effective contraception. But when you add women's health, safety and rights into the equation, abortion remains vital to the exercise of real contraceptive choice. It's not about preventing abortion, but instead about ensuring that abortion services are widely available and accessible.

For example, when used with the backup of legal abortion, barrier methods of contraception such as the condom, diaphragm and cervical cap are the safest by far of all reversible contraceptives. They do not cause any delay in or risk to fertility and they help protect against sexually transmitted diseases and cervical cancer. They do not raise your risk of cancer or circulatory problems, or cause the so-called "minor" side effects of many hormonal methods - weight gain, loss of libido, depression.

Many women might choose to use barrier methods as their main form of birth control over so-called more effective methods with substantial side effects - the IUD, Depo-Provera, implants, the patch - if they knew they could get an abortion without difficulty in case they got pregnant. Access to emergency contraception (EC) is clearly vital too, but EC is only useful when you know you are at immediate risk of pregnancy and take action right away.

We need to return abortion to its status as a birth control method rather than as a tragic, traumatic event laden with guilt. Surgical abortion is one of the safest types of medical procedures; less than 1% of all women having legal abortions in the U.S. experience a major complication. We have to challenge American exceptionalism when it comes to the politics of abortion. In most other countries where abortion is legal, it is a question not only of women's rights, but of public health.

Women have had abortions throughout history and will continue to have them. Today almost a quarter of pregnancies worldwide end in abortion. The question is not about the morality of abortion, but its safety. Illegal and unsafe abortion claims the lives of nearly 70,000 women worldwide every year and leads to untold medical complications. Don't get me wrong -- this does not mean abortion should be the only or main form of birth control, as was the case in the former Soviet Union where the state neglected women's need for contraceptive methods. But we need to move away from abortion as the last line of defense against unwanted pregnancy and view it as a necessary component of contraceptive choice.

In the U.S., the increasing lack of access to abortion because of restrictive laws, provider shortages and expense puts pressure on family planning providers to push the most effective contraceptives in terms of preventing pregnancy. The target is especially young and poor women. The scarcity of abortion services thus skews the contraceptive calculus and encourages a cavalier attitude toward side effects and safety.

As the injectable Depo Provera loses favor because of its links to bone density loss and possible connection to an increased risk of acquiring HIV/AIDS, providers are starting to turn to other methods like the IUD. Locally, we are hearing reports of college students being prescribed the IUD even though it is contraindicated for young, sexually active women who have not have children because it is associated with a greater risk of pelvic inflammatory disease and future infertility.

Meanwhile, contraceptive manufacturers, eager to market their products, are waging a low intensity war against condoms as a form of birth control. For example, the former distributor of Depo Provera, Pharmacia Corporation, put out promotional materials suggesting that it was irresponsible for women only to use condoms since they are less effective than Depo in preventing pregnancy. Drug companies are also pushing a perverse notion of 'pharma-spontaneity' on young women. The message is that it is wonderful and liberating for young women not to worry about birth control when they have sex -- why negotiate with your partner to put on a condom when you can get a shot or implant in your arm, an IUD in your uterus, or even a hormonal method that lets you miss your periods.

This notion of sexual spontaneity is disastrous in terms of women taking action to protect themselves against sexually transmitted diseases. By contrast, we need to say condoms and other barrier methods are a good, safe contraceptive choice, and even more so in combination with access to EC and abortion.

We also need to acknowledge that sometimes we are not all good girls. When we screw, we sometimes screw up, or at least our partner does, and thank god for EC and abortion, and please, Hillary Clinton, don't make us feel guilty for failing to be perfect. We should put women's health and safety first, and that means defending abortion not only as a fundamental woman's right, but as an important tool of contraceptive choice. We need to challenge the discourse of prevention with a positive, proactive language of our own.

-- Betsy Hartmann is director of the Population and Development Program at Hampshire College in Amherst, MA and a longstanding activist in the women's health movement. She is the author of Reproductive Rights and Wrongs: The Global Politics of Population Control (Boston: South End Press, 1995)

UK: 39 years post-legalisation, abortion rights set to be clawed back from the bottom up Print E-mail
 London -- Friday October 27 2006

Time to speak up

It's 39 years since abortion was legalised in this country, yet these days it's rarely discussed without mention of 'shame', 'mental trauma' or 'viability'. With pro-lifers dominating the debate, and even leftwingers describing abortion as a 'necessary evil', women's hard-won rights could soon be under threat.

In an introduction to an eight-page special,  asks: are we just going to roll over?

Today marks the 39th anniversary of abortion becoming legal in Britain. Yes, yes, there would have been an argument for waiting for the 40th, but I really think, in the current climate, that it needs to be celebrated as often as possible. On Halloween, mindful or not of this anniversary, the Conservative MP Nadine Dorries will be introducing her 10-minute-rule bill, proposing a reduction in the time limit on abortion in this country to 21 weeks (down from 24 weeks at present), and a "cooling-off period after the first point of contact with a medical practitioner about a termination" - so far as I can make out, she wishes to slow the abortion process down still further, and then penalise women who have left it too late. Her rationale? She just "has a feeling it's right". Honestly.

I remember the first time that I wrote about having had an abortion; it was in the mid-90s (the abortion, I mean. And the article, too). A survey had come out saying that one in four women had availed themselves of termination services; I was surprised by how low that figure was, but it also made me think: if 25% of women have had abortions, then surely every one of us, male and female, has a friend or partner or family member, someone very close anyhow, who has had an abortion. Seriously, unless you are very cloistered or you are incredibly judgmental and uptight and nobody ever tells you anything, you will have been aware of an abortion at very close quarters, even if it was not your own.

So why does nobody talk about it, I pondered then, and do again now. Why are there never any abortion jokes? Why is it unthinkable to discuss it without prefacing everything with "of course, it's terribly traumatic, no woman enters into this lightly"? I found it no more traumatic than any other operation I have ever had, no more psychologically scarring, way less painful than anything involving my teeth and considerably less annoying than anything I have had done on the NHS (whose "resources" in this area - which I will complain about later - meant I had to go private, which is entirely against my principles, but did make it very convenient).

Even writing that, I am furious - it is considered a given, an unarguable tenet of modern society, that you would feel ashamed of having a termination, that you would, in some cutesy, feminine, inarticulate way, feel "bad" about it. You are not allowed to talk about this operation unless it is to say how dirty it made you feel. We are all expected to have these moral objections and yet suffer the business anyway, in the name of pragmatism. Ethically, this is a far dodgier and more repugnant position than mine, which is that I am entirely pro-abortion because I do not consider it murder; if you do not consider this foetus human, then it becomes no more of an issue than getting a tumour removed. If I have any shame at all, it is because, when my health was at stake, I immediately opted out and went private, and I would have hoped before that happened that it would have taken more than an unwanted pregnancy. Never mind. The NHS doctor made me feel that if I had stayed in the system, I would be wasting resources that rightfully belonged to poorer, younger mothers. I was 25; if I had been the age I am now, I would not have taken any notice of her.

This is worth revisiting. The prevailing attitude these days seems to be that abortion is state-sanctioned murder and we put up with it because if we didn't, women would have them in back alleys anyway. It is the lesser of two evils, therefore, and as such, must be cloaked in silence, since whichever way you look at it, it still has an evil at its core. This line has taken hold because it is the least controversial way of supporting the right: so an MP standing up and saying "Women need this right, because otherwise they will put their health at risk having illegal terminations" will not find the pro-life lobby instantly rearing up against them, petitioning their constituents with what a murderer he or she is. If, however, an MP were to stand up and say "I am pro-choice because I do not consider this to be murder. I do not consider it to be evil. I do not consider a foetus which a woman has a one in three chance of involuntarily rejecting anyway to be a viable life unless she deems it so. I do not buy this craven sentimentality about the unborn, this pseudo-spiritual cleanliness we ascribe to it. In fact, it makes me sick", then votes will be lost. In other words, there are no votes to be won supporting abortion in an ideologically honest way, and lots to be lost. The taboo started in Westminster, I believe; not everything starts in the Daily Mail.

Back to this article. I got a lot of weirdos sending me pictures of tiny bloodied babies' fingers, Photoshopped on to a pair of abortionist's rubber gloves, with captions along the lines of "Just a collection of cells? Tell that to the baby". Those were pretty lurid, but also amusingly put together. What irked me more, though, was all the traffic from the "voices of reason" saying words to the effect of "Why do you have to push everything? We all value the right to abortion, we're all glad it exists. Why on earth would you want to fight for the right to be able to joke about it? When it's not even funny?" But I was not saying abortions are, in and of themselves, hilarious. I was asking why they never crop up in jokes. Cancer does, cheese does, shagging and gonorrhoea and disabilities and dogs and flowers and terrible, terrible diseases, and all other foodstuffs, and all other genres of people ... There are taboos in political rhetoric, yes, tonnes of them, but in comedy, even in very mainstream comedy, there are almost no taboos. You could make a joke about September 11 before you could make a joke about abortion. And this is not irrelevant, it is not as if the right is inviolable, and the joking is a side issue. If you allow a taboo to hold, you leave all the cultural space open to anti-abortionists.

Ten years on, we can see the results of this. Culturally, there is an even greater silence around abortion, and an even greater refusal to discuss it except in terms of its terrible psychological toll on women. Research in both Britain and America repeatedly shows this not to be the case - that abortion, unlike bringing to term an unwanted pregnancy, does not increase the risk of depression; and furthermore, that the uptake on the compulsorily offered post-abortion counselling is staggeringly low (in some areas it is just 1%). And even she is probably just being polite.

Meanwhile there is an increasing foetus fetishisation in mainstream media - all this "miracle of life" stuff, with six-day-old embryos bouncing around, looking deliciously as if they are playing football with the placenta. It is hard to take this any more seriously than you would those pictures of baby bats in socks (non-readers of the Daily Mail will at this stage start to wonder what on earth I am on about) but, operating in this chamber of cultural silence where mature commentary about women's rights, health and beliefs vis-a-vis abortion simply is not happening, it is not a huge leap of the imagination to think that these dancing-foetus babies are jeopardising the gynaecological freedoms of the next generation.

Noises from parliament are ineffectual but nevertheless damaging. It has become de rigueur not to criticise the right to abortion, but rather to attack the time limit. During the tedious Tory leadership election, there was briefly some ham-fisted tub-thumping by Liam Fox (who wanted the time limit reduced to 12 weeks), but since then there have been cross-party rumblings, with early-day motions and other unhelpful motions made by Labour MPs Geraldine Smith and Claire Curtis-Thomas, as well as Liberals (notably Evan Harris).

There is a huge amount of evidence for the disingenuousness of this strategy. Firstly, anyone with a serious interest in reducing the (already terribly small) number of late-term abortions would make it their priority to improve provision of pre-12 week terminations on the NHS. They would roll out the pre-nine-week abortion pill as something nurses could administer without doctors; they would, of course, overturn the ludicrously old-fashioned system of having two doctors on hand to ratify every abortion; they would lobby against the tacit but anecdotally widespread NHS policy of not even bothering providing pre-12-week abortions, on the basis that anyone who is in that much of a rush could go private.

Sufficient interest in late-term abortions to actually research them would, furthermore, show that the functional NHS time limit is not 24 weeks but 19, after which public health services become so foot-draggingly obstructive that women have to go private. Since the second scan during a pregnancy occurs at 20 weeks, sometimes later, and it is generally only at this point that many birth defects become clear, there would seem to be an active, perverse, unlegislated barrier to late-term abortions.

Furthermore, late-term abortions constitute the truly pitifully small proportion of 1.6%; that was in 2003, since when the trend has been downwards. The late-term argument always rests upon so-called "scientific advances", which have made foetuses marvellously hardy, so that the laws of 1967 are blatantly out of date. We are like a crowd of Victorian idiots marvelling at some fairground quack who claims to cure constipation. The truth is that no significant scientific development in foetal viability has occurred since the late-term law was brought down from 28 to 24 weeks in 1990. In all respects, you are better off dealing with those politicians who openly admit their anti-abortion stance: such as the Tory MP Laurence Robertson, who, in May last year, used his windfall in the private member's ballot to propose a blanket ban on all abortion. Robertson is not only a lot more honest than your Harrises and your Foxes, he also provides the useful service of reminding us that this right is still something we must be ready to fight for.

The other thing to remember, of course, is that the one thing we have in common with America (where, of course, the situation is much direr - see Suzanne Goldenberg's report on page 12) is that this boils down to a class issue. In the US, while the Christian right campaigns feverishly against late-term abortions, there are women leaving it to 18 or 20 weeks because they literally cannot afford the operation or even the transport to get to it. In the US, abortion laws are effectively working only for middle-class women already. In Britain, while some care trusts offer a good abortion service pre-12 weeks, it is by no means nationwide, so a very large proportion of women are having to wait till after their three-month scan unless they can afford to go private. And yet, many women who count as late-term abortions, at 18 weeks or more, report that the reason their pregnancy got so advanced was because that at any point from 15 weeks, their GPs became obstructive and unhelpful. So really, the window for an abortion on the NHS can be as narrow as three weeks, and all it takes is some garden-variety inefficiency for that window to be shut altogether.

So it boils down to this: for those of us with the cash, abortion is still an inviolable right, and for those of us without it, things are a lot more sticky. Let's not forget, this is exactly what the situation was before 1967. Not since the dawn of medical capability has it been impossible for a rich woman to get a termination. This battle was fought for all women; if, as middle-class women, we stand by and watch while the right is clawed away from the bottom up, and then if, in 50 years' time, it has been rescinded altogether, it will be no more than we deserve. Anyone interested in findiing our more on abortion rights should contact Abortion Rights (Abortionrights.org.uk ).

Abortion

The facts

· The 1967 Abortion Act made abortion legal in the UK up to 28 weeks gestation. In 1990, the law was amended: abortion is now legal only up to 24 weeks except in cases where it's necessary to save the life of the woman, there's evidence of extreme foetal abnormality or there is grave risk of physical or mental injury to the woman.

· Abortions after 24 weeks are extremely rare, accounting for 0.1% of all abortions (fewer than 200 a year).

· The act does not extend to Northern Ireland. Abortion is only legal there if the life or the mental or physical health of the woman is at "serious risk". There are no clear guidelines, however, and provision depends on the moral outlook of individual doctors.

· In 2004/05, 64 women had an abortion in Northern Ireland, according to the Family Planning Association.

· In 2005, 1,164 women from Northern Ireland travelled to England for an abortion. Women travelling from Northern Ireland for an abortion cannot have them on the NHS.

· According to the Department of Health, the total number of abortions in England and Wales last year was 186,400 (compared with 185,700 in 2004 - a rise of 0.4%).

· The abortion rate was highest, at 32 per 1,000, for women in the 20-24 age group.

· The rate for under-16s was just 3.7 per 1,000 women and the under-18 rate 17.8 per 1,000 women, both the same as in 2004.

· 89% of abortions were carried out when the foetus was less than 13 weeks old; 67% at under 10 weeks.

· 1,900 abortions (1%) were classified as having been carried out because of a risk that the child would be born with disabilities.

· According to pro-choice campaign groups, 1.6% of abortions fit the classification "late-term", being performed at 20 weeks or more.

· Scotland keeps its own statistics and in 2005 there were 12,603 abortions performed, compared to 12,461 in 2004.

Kira Cochrane
 

US: South Dakota pro-lifers hell-bent on sending women back to the days of the coat-hanger Print E-mail
 London -- Friday October 27 2006

America's abortion battlefield

Things may not be perfect in Britain, but they are far worse in the US. Suzanne Goldenberg reports from the front line in South Dakota


Signs of the times
[A "coat hanger" graffitied pro-life sign, Cliff Avenue and 49th Street, Sioux Falls Oct 17, 2006]

On the southern edge of Sioux Falls, where shopping malls and large suburban churches begin to give way to prairie, there is a squat, bunker-like brick building with a heavy flat roof and just a few reflective slits for windows. The entrance - a reinforced glass door manned by a security guard - is tucked away at the back. This is South Dakota's only abortion clinic. When the last doctor retired, no one dared take up the job, so these days Planned Parenthood, which runs the place, flies doctors in from neighbouring Minnesota once a week. Soon even this extremely limited access to abortion could cease, however. On November 7, the people of South Dakota will vote in a referendum whether to adopt a sweeping state law that would make abortion a crime.

This is a battle with nationwide significance. The law was passed in South Dakota last March with the express intent of provoking a challenge to the famous Roe v Wade supreme court ruling that in 1973 gave women in the US the right to an abortion. If South Dakota does outlaw abortion as many as 30 other states could soon move to impose their own abortion bans.

This is America's abortion debate in its purest, most distilled form: yes or no. There is no province for doubt. Should a woman be compelled to carry a baby to term when doctors tell her it will be born with no brain? Should a pregnant woman forgo potentially life-saving medical treatment for the sake of the baby she is carrying? Should a woman be forced to give birth to a child conceived in rape? Yes, yes and yes, says Leslee Unruh, the guiding light of South Dakota's anti-abortion activists. She has devoted her life to ending abortion, driven by her own guilt at having a termination as a young woman.

Unruh is based at an industrial shed near the airport in Sioux Falls. This is where the protesters gather before they set out for the Planned Parenthood clinic, with their stark posters reading: "I regret my abortion." This is where they pick up the signs that are dotted along every major road in South Dakota, calling for a definitive end to abortion.

In the letters column of the local paper, the Argus Leader, opinion seems to be running in favour of the ban, with little tolerance for those who won't fall into line. "I am tired of people ranting about how women have the 'right' to choose," read one recent letter. "Osama bin Laden is pro-choice. He thinks he has the right to choose who lives and dies, based on his own twisted standards. Perhaps America's pro-choicers should elect him as their spokesman."

But South Dakota's pro-choice activists believe a silent majority in the state does support abortion rights; it's just that most of them are not ready to come out and say so openly. "We are a pro-choice state in denial," says a woman, who asked not to be named, who works in the state legislature at Pierre. "I have a friend who insists that she is pro-life, but then she says: 'I am not going to tell another woman what to do.' "

In the years since Roe v Wade, a generation of anti-abortion activists have successfully shifted the debate about reproduction and abortion away from the primacy of women's rights to those of the child she is carrying. In South Dakota, the argument has taken an additional twist, with Unruh claiming that abortion also runs against the best interests of women. She says she is seeking to protect women from what she claims are the lasting psychological and physical scars of abortion.

While the arguments against abortion may differ, from South Dakota to Mississippi, one fact is clear: women's access to abortion in America is diminishing, and the support for abortion rights from the political establishment is receding. The Democratic party, once an unabashed defender of abortion rights, is edging away from such full-throttled support in an attempt to win back social conservatives from the Republican party. Last year, Hillary Clinton gave a speech calling abortion a "sad, even tragic choice" and called for policies to ensure that "the choice guaranteed under our constitution either does not ever have to be exercised or only in very rare circumstances". A number of Democratic candidates in these mid-term elections are avowedly pro-life. That would once have been almost unthinkable.

Next month the supreme court is expected to take up arguments on a federal law that would impose fines and prison on doctors who perform abortions using a technique that pro-life activists have labelled partial-birth abortion. The procedure is used in relatively advanced pregnancies when the cervix must be dilated before the foetus can be surgically extracted. Relatively few such abortions are performed using that method, but the campaign against "partial-birth abortion" has become a crusade for the pro-life movement in the US and gathered important supporters. The bill was passed by nearly two-to-one in Congress, and President Bush gave it his enthusiastic support. It has yet to take effect.

At the same time, state legislatures have moved methodically to limit the extent of the rights granted by Roe v Wade, and a number have passed laws that would immediately outlaw abortion if the supreme court ruling is overturned. "The general strategy over the past 20 to 25 years has been to just layer seemingly simple restrictions one on top of one another so that it creates a kind of web of impediments that together make access to abortion exceedingly difficult for women who are young, or poor, or who have to travel great distances for access," says Roger Evans, an attorney for Planned Parenthood.

Most states now allow abortion only up to 13 weeks. Others compel clinics to be equipped as if they were fully-fledged hospitals, making it expensive for them to remain in operation, or have restricted access to chemically induced abortions. Some states have imposed mandatory waiting periods. Some have laws that require women under the age of 18 to get written parental assent, or appear before a judge to argue for an exemption. They also make it illegal for minors to seek an abortion in another state. In some states, women are required to undergo an information session during which they will be warned about the possible psychological damage they could suffer if they have an abortion, or told that the foetus might suffer pain. And in many US states, women have to pay for abortions themselves; most jurisdictions now prohibit insurance cover.

Only a few hold-outs remain: the liberal coastal states of California, Oregon and Washington, and on the opposite coast, New York, New Hampshire, Maine and Vermont. But they could soon follow suit. Oregon and California are also holding referendums on abortion during this election season - on laws that would require parental notification of minors seeking an abortion.

But almost nowhere in the US is it as difficult to get an abortion as in South Dakota, which, even without the ban, has one of the lowest rates of abortion in the US (five per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 compared to the national average of 16). In the past decade, the state legislature has sys tematically drafted legislation to limit access to abortion, passing five new bills last year alone. South Dakota requires parents of minors to be notified and a 24-hour waiting period. Abortions are performed at the Planned Parenthood clinic only until the 13th week of pregnancy, and the women must bear the $500 cost. If they are from Rapid City, South Dakota's other main town, the clinic is a five-hour drive away. Last year, state legislators passed a law compelling doctors to tell women that if they have an abortion they would be terminating the life of a "whole, separate, unique human being". That law is under challenge in the courts.

But these restrictions were still not enough for Unruh, who was beginning to lose faith in the incremental approach of the anti-abortion movement. "We'd been there, done that, and it still didn't work," she says. "There were 800 women in South Dakota last year who underwent an abortion." So Unruh consulted her supporters in the South Dakota state legislature, particularly Roger Hunt, a Republican whose fingerprints lie on eight or nine pieces of anti-abortion legislation and who is the sponsor of the ban. "South Dakota is a pro-life state," he says. "It was certainly leading us to this." Under Hunt's lead, a law emerged that would permit abortion only if the woman was in danger of imminent death. The only other recourse in the case of contraceptive failure is the morning-after pill. That will remain legal under the ban, though South Dakota law allows chemists to refuse to sell it on religious grounds. The law was approved by both chambers of the state legislature - with support from Democrats as well as Republicans - and swiftly signed into law by state governor Mike Rounds last March.

Hunt, a former navy lawyer, defends the broad sweep of the current ban. Allowing exceptions for a woman's health would give women too many excuses, he says. So would allowing an abortion in the event of a rape. "The first thing any abortion clinic is going to ask a woman is if she has been raped, and she can come in anytime and allege rape. How are you going to establish that?" "Realistically you would be negating the whole intent of the bill." What about a 14-year-old girl who had been raped by a relative? Could he live with forcing her to carry the child? "I can live with that," he says. He argues that allowing abortion in cases of incest would allow the perpetrators to bury the evidence. "When you allow an uncle, father or brother to have an abortion, they are taking away the evidence of incest."

But Hunt is not really thinking about teenage girls in South Dakota, although he acknowledges that the bill would stand a far greater chance in the referendum if it made exceptions for a woman's health, or pregnancies that were the result of incest or rape. What he is really focused on, as he readily admits, is the supreme court.

Last year, President Bush named two new judges with impeccable conservative credentials, Chief Justice John Roberts and Judge Samuel Alito, and anti-abortion activists believe their appointments could tip the balance in the court and overturn Roe v Wade. Hunt believes the odds could grow even more favourable during the remaining years of Bush's presidency. One of the more liberal judges, John Paul Stevens, is already 86, and his retirement or death could give Bush the opportunity to make lasting changes to America's top judicial authority. "You'd have to have your head in the sand if you didn't think that the bill would end up in the supreme court," Hunt says.

First, though, the bill has to go before the voters of South Dakota. Within days of the ban, local activists decided to exploit a state provision that allows for legislation to be put to a referendum following a petition campaign. At first, Planned Parenthood was sceptical; the organisation has focused on using America's courts to protect abortion rights, and was unsure about a change of strategy. But the response of ordinary South Dakotans to the ban took organisers of the petition by surprise; within weeks they had gathered more than 40,000 signatures - twice as many as required. The state's abortion ban was to be put to the ballot. Its pro-life movement, while a powerhouse in the state legislature, would now have to answer to the people.

Unruh knows the stakes are high, and she acknowledges that her opponents may have the edge. But that does not deter her. If the ban is defeated, she says, she will march right back to the state legislature in January and start over again. "It will never be over," she insists.

US: Media silent on God's army of self-admitted anti-abortion terrorists Print E-mail


 

Long Island -- October 8, 2006

The terrorists who aren't in the news

Anti-abortion fanatics spread fear by bombings, murders and assaults, but the media take little notice
BY JENNIFER L. POZNER*

On Sept. 11, 2006, the fifth anniversary of the terror attacks that devastated our nation, a man crashed his car into a building in Davenport, Iowa, hoping to blow it up and kill himself in the fire.

No national newspaper, magazine or network newscast reported this attempted suicide bombing, though an AP wire story was available. Cable news (save for MSNBC's Keith Olbermann) was silent about this latest act of terrorism in America.

Had the criminal, David McMenemy, been Arab or Muslim, this would have been headline news for weeks. But since his target was the Edgerton Women's Health Center, rather than, say, a bank or a police station, media have not called this terrorism - even after three decades of extreme violence by anti-abortion fanatics, mostly fundamentalist Christians who believe they're fighting a holy war.

Since 1977, casualties from this war include seven murders, 17 attempted murders, three kidnappings, 152 assaults, 305 completed or attempted bombings and arsons, 375 invasions, 482 stalking incidents, 380 death threats, 618 bomb threats, 100 acid attacks, and 1,254 acts of vandalism, according to the National Abortion Federation.

Abortion providers and activists received 77 letters threatening anthrax attacks before 9/11, yet the media never considered anthrax threats as terrorism until after 9/11, when such letters were delivered to journalists' offices and members of Congress.

After 9/11, Planned Parenthood and other abortion rights groups received 554 envelopes containing white powder and messages like, "You have been exposed to anthrax. ... We are going to kill all of you." They were signed by the Army of God, a group that hosts Scripture-filled Web pages for "Anti-Abortion Heroes of the Faith" including minister Paul Hill, Michael Griffin and James Kopp, all convicted of murdering abortion providers, and a convicted clinic bomber, the Rev. Michael Bray. Another of their "martyrs," Clayton Waagner, mailed anthrax letters while a fugitive on the FBI's 10 most wanted list for anti-abortion related crimes.

"I am a terrorist," Waagner declared on the Army of God's Web site. Boasting that God "freed me to make war on his enemy," he claimed he knew where 42 Planned Parenthood workers lived. "It doesn't matter to me if you're a nurse, receptionist, bookkeeper, or janitor, if you work for the murderous abortionist I'm going to kill you."

That's textbook terrorism, defined by the USA Patriot Act as dangerous criminal acts that "appear to be intended to intimidate or coerce a civilian population" or "to influence the policy of a government by intimidation or coercion."

Which brings us back to car bomber McMenemy. According to the Detroit Free Press (the only newspaper in the Nexis news database that reported his crime), he targeted the women's health center because he thought it provided abortions. It doesn't. (Oops!) It provides mostly low-income patients with pap smears, ob-gyn care, testing for sexually transmitted diseases, birth control, and nutrition and immunization programs for women and children.

The attack caused $170,000 in property damage and left poor families without health care for a week. But long after Edgerton's water-logged carpets are removed, scorched medical equipment replaced and new doors reopened to the public, a culture of fear will linger among doctors, nurses, advocates and patients across the country, who will worry that they're next. Some frightened workers will quit their jobs; some women will be too scared to get the health care they need.

Every fresh incident of anti-abortion terrorism is a reminder that women's health supporters are not safe in a country where abortion is legal but mobilized zealots believe Jesus has empowered them to kill to prevent women from choosing it.

Is McMenemy a lone nutcase, or a member of that network of violent extremists? We don't know, because journalists haven't investigated.

Nor have they reported that just last year, nearly one in five abortion clinics experienced gunfire, arson, bombings, chemical attacks, assaults, stalking, death threats and blockades, according to the 2005 National Clinic Violence Survey. Additionally, 59 percent suffered intimidation tactics such as photo/video surveillance.

Federal efforts to hunt down these terrorists improved with the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act in 1994 and the National Task Force on Violence Against Health Care Providers, established by the Department of Justice in 1998. The feds have taken over McMenemy's case, charging him with arson against a business affecting interstate commerce. Yet as of Oct. 5, no news outlet on Nexis reported this, despite a second AP story.

As we continue national debates on how to keep America safe from terrorism, journalists do us - and especially women - no good pretending that the threats come only from radical Muslims outside our borders.

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*Jennifer L. Pozner is founder and executive director of Women In Media & News, a national media analysis, education and advocacy group.

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