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US: Post mid-term election, the future far to the right on Iraq, torture, immigrants & abortion Print E-mail

 #69, November 19, 2006

Women’s Lives Still On the Line

by Mary Lou Greenberg

On November 7, in South Dakota, Referred Law 6—the most restrictive and cruel abortion ban in the country—was defeated. This was a defeat for those who would enslave women to the dictates of fundamentalist religious dogma. Passed by the South Dakota legislature last March and signed into law by the governor, the law displayed utter contempt for woman, banning all abortions with no exceptions for rape, incest, or the health of the pregnant woman—allowing for abortion only in cases where the woman is about to die.

I was in South Dakota for a week leading up to the elections—and the dedication, energy, and determination to knock down this ban pulsed from campuses and street corners across the state in a contentious political atmosphere that split families and friends. The campaign in support of the law, backed by massive infusions of funds from anti-abortion forces, blasted out blatant lies about the law and abortion with ads, billboards, and yard signs. Appeals to “God” and Jesus, with threats of eternal damnation for those who opposed the ban, filled letters to local newspapers. The atmosphere was tense on campuses and in the community generally, with some fearing to display “No on 6” signs and students reporting that they felt vulnerable when they put pro-choice buttons on their backpacks.

When pro-choice people overcame their initial fears and spoke out, they found they were not alone, and others came forward to volunteer and contribute in different ways to the campaign to defeat the ban. In the days leading up to Nov. 7, there were probably hundreds of volunteers across the state who swung into gear to canvass, phone bank and get out the “No on Referred Law 6” vote. Most were from South Dakota, but others came from Washington DC and NYC, the Midwest and even the West Coast to be part of the effort. National organizations, including the National Abortion Federation, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health, Feminist Majority, and World Can’t Wait—Drive Out the Bush Regime, organized volunteers to go to Sioux Falls.

While this abortion ban was defeated, the equally reactionary Amendment C, which targets both gay and straight couples who are not officially married, passed. This state constitutional amendment prohibits gay marriage and civil unions, domestic partnerships, and the recognition of what it calls “quasi-marital relationships.” In addition, Republican State Senator Bill Napoli, who supported the ban and commented last spring that abortion should never be an option in the case of “simple rape,” was re-elected. This disgusting comment infuriated women who poured out their hearts in letters to the newspaper, about how rape is never “simple.” Rape is rape and heterosexual rape is always a means to exercise patriarchal power over women by assaulting them in the most brutal and degrading way.

There is also discussion now about how the SD state legislature will continue its assault on the right to abortion—passing the same or a very similar law in the next legislative session or passing a ban with exceptions for rape, incest, and the woman’s health (as Napoli now favors). As it is, South Dakota is one of the states with the most restrictions in the country, including a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory counseling to discourage abortion, and parental notification for minors. There is only one clinic in the state, Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood, that offers abortions, and they do so only one day a week with a doctor who flies in from Minneapolis.

And it’s not just in South Dakota where the whole right to abortion is seriously under attack. The day after the elections the U.S. Supreme Court heard two cases challenging the federal abortion ban that was passed in 2003 that would outlaw the most common and safest procedures for abortion as early as 13 weeks of pregnancy. Since the Court heard a similar case in 2000 about an almost-identical law and ruled it unconstitutional, its composition has changed—with the addition of two Bush-appointed extreme right-wing, anti-woman judges, John G. Roberts and Samuel Alito, who have expressed strong opposition to Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion.

Meanwhile, the Democrats have continually shown just how little they will actually fight to defend a woman’s right to abortion. They offered only token opposition when Bush nominated Roberts, with even some Democratic pro-choice forces using the excuse that they were holding their strongest fire for the next Bush nominee to the Court. But then when Alito—who has said that “the Constitution does not protect the right to an abortion”—was named, the Democrats refused to call a filibuster that could have blocked the nomination.

This strategy of the Democratic Party leadership of token squeaks of opposition before total capitulation on this most fundamental and essential right of women to control their own reproduction, was played out over and over in the recent elections—with the Democratic Party leadership openly seeking out anti-choice Democrats and even promoting their candidacies over those who were pro-choice.

The Senate race in Pennsylvania was a prime example where anti-abortion, pro-war and anti-stem cell research incumbent Rick Santorum was defeated by anti-abortion, pro-war and anti-stem cell research candidate Robert Casey Jr. A pro-choice Democrat, Barbara Hafer, was forced out of this race by Democratic Party leaders, and this appalling move was backed by all nine ostensibly pro-choice women Democratic senators in the interests of getting a Democratic majority in the Senate.

I can understand people’s great desire to get rid of Santorum, who is infamous for equating homosexuality with bestiality, and many may have cast their vote more out of hatred for Santorum than support for Casey. But this is the LOSE-LOSE proposition that is presented to people as democracy in this country where they get to “choose” between pre-selected candidates, neither of which represents the people’s interests.

The elections may have changed what ruling class party has a majority in the House and Senate. But it hasn’t and won’t change the ruling class interests of both parties in enforcing male supremacy and patriarchy and, as part of this, denying women the right to abortion.

Democratic Party leader Charles Schumer, who is being congratulated for his winning strategy, has said that defending abortion is a game that the Democrats “can’t afford to play” any longer. The Washington Post recently reported that earlier in the year Schumer conferred with Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell and gave the nod to Casey, saying “the days are over when a Democrat has to check 28 boxes to get our support.” In other words, women’s lives are just one more optional issue, and reproductive freedom will be sacrificed to political expediency so the Democrats can enact a program that has basic unity with that of the Republicans.

Marine combat veteran and former secretary of the Navy James Webb, whose close victory in Virginia gave the Senate majority to the Democrats, condemned the investigation of the Navy Tailhook sexual abuse scandal in the 1990s as “a political witch-hunt, driven by a radical-feminist agenda to undermine the masculine culture of the military.” With senators like Casey and Webb, what will women’s lives be worth in this so-called “new” Congress?

The Hillary Clinton position that abortion is a “tragic choice” and should be “rare” has become the official mantra of the Democrats. Not only does this give moral ground to the religious reactionaries who claim that fetuses are the same as born children and that abortion is murder, but the logic of this position would—and will—lead you to accept the South Dakota abortion ban as long as it has exceptions for rape and incest and the health of the woman. You will be forced to accept more and more restrictions, including the federal abortion ban now before the Supreme Court, until all that is left of Roe is a hollow shell, if that.

What we need is an unapologetic, bold and righteously moral defense of women’s right to participate fully in all of society, to be full human beings and not incubators, slaves to their biology and the dictates of church and state. We need to raise the slogan “abortion on demand and without apology.” We need intense discussion and strategizing about how everyone who cares about women and the future of humanity can take the offensive around this critical question. And we need to break out of the confines of politics-as-usual and take independent political action to drive out the Bush regime and its whole theocratic direction.

The Democratic Party leadership has no intention of seriously challenging efforts to enforce patriarchal morality and authority over women—even (and perhaps, especially) with a woman, Nancy Pelosi, as Speaker of the House. We have already seen the Democrats try to “out-family-values” the Republicans in the election campaigns, which can lead nowhere good for women. And Pelosi and the new Senate majority leader, abortion opponent Harry Reid, have already said they plan to lead from “the middle”—a “middle” which is already so far to the right on everything from the war in Iraq, to torture, immigrants, and abortion.
US: Nov 8 defeat leaves South Dakota's pro-lifers down but not out Print E-mail
Thursday November 9 2006

S.D. considers next move on abortion

Legislators differ on how to proceed


 Nathan Peterson, field director, pulls posters and notes from the hallway walls as he helps clean up the downtown Sioux Falls offices Wednesday afternoon following the successful campaign to defeat the state's abortion ban.

The major battle is over, and the troops are resting. But many wonder what comes next in the fight over abortions in South Dakota.

One day after the state's ban on nearly all abortions was soundly defeated, state legislators are considering the message sent by voters.

"Now we have a broad mandate," said Republican state Sen. Tom Dempster of Sioux Falls, who voted against the ban on the Senate floor. "(Legislators) should listen to that mandate."

Lawmakers could introduce the ban again in the 2007 legislative session. Some think a less restrictive ban with clear exceptions could and should be introduced.

Others think South Dakota - which already has some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the country - could try to impose more restrictions on the procedure.

Or perhaps the Legislature won't touch the issue of abortion at all.

"You just have to think people will say, 'Maybe we ought not be quite so enthusiastic about this,' " said Don Dahlin, professor of political science at the University of South Dakota.

The abortion ban was passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Mike Rounds earlier this year in an attempt to challenge the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision by the Supreme Court. The ban, which divided the state in an expensive campaign by supporters and opponents, would have banned all abortions except those done to save a woman's life.

Rounds did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

New tactics possible
The author of the failed abortion ban, Republican state Rep. Roger Hunt of Brandon, will return to Pierre in January and said lawmakers probably will discuss abortion again.

While it's too early to lay out plans for specific abortion legislation, Hunt said, lawmakers could introduce bills that continue to chip away at the availability of the procedure.

For example, Hunt said, the Legislature could pass a bill requiring women seeking abortions be made to view a fetal ultrasound before the procedure takes place. Women who undergo abortions at Planned Parenthood - the state's only clinic in Sioux Falls - do receive ultrasounds but are not required to view them.

"There are a number of things that can be done," Hunt said.

Democratic Rep. Kathy Miles of Sioux Falls, who strongly supported the abortion ban, agreed that it was "a little bit premature" to speculate on upcoming legislation.

"I don't think the issue will ever go away," Miles said. "We created an awareness for people that was not there before, and we need that revitalization and that passion to continue."

The message from voters and the changes in the makeup of the Legislature could mean lawmakers introducing abortion-related bills or another ban have a harder time getting those bills passed, Dahlin said.

"I wouldn't at all be surprised to see if it would have a little tougher time because of this experience," he said.

Exceptions are key
Meanwhile, one lawmaker said he hopes to see a less restrictive abortion ban introduced that includes exceptions for rape, incest and the health of a pregnant woman.

Republican Sen. Bill Napoli of Rapid City said recent polls that indicated South Dakotans would have approved a ban with exceptions mean voters want to end "abortion on demand" in the state.

"Last night, we settled the issue that the people of South Dakota want rape, incest and health of the mother exceptions," Napoli said Wednesday. "We should move ahead; that appears that's what the polls say we should do."

Napoli said he wouldn't introduce such a ban, but he would vote for one.

Republican Sen. Ed Olson, who opposed the abortion ban because it was too restrictive, said he wouldn't be surprised to see a ban with exceptions introduced. Olson said he still wrestles with the issue, but he could agree with the right bill.

"I could see rape and incest (exceptions) and then having a huge fight over the word 'health,' " Olson said.

A break from the issue?
Other lawmakers say they think voters wouldn't mind seeing the abortion issue take a backseat for a year or two.

"I don't foresee much of any abortion legislation coming in the 2007 or 2008 session," said Republican Sen. Jason Gant of Sioux Falls. "I think the people of the entire state had the opportunity to voice their opinion on the issue, and we need to just go with that."

Gant, who voted for the ban, said he regretted that voters felt the abortion issue dominated the last session because it was so controversial.

"Now if abortion isn't on the forefront of everything in the state, just think of what we can do," Gant said.

Newly elected Democratic Sen. Tom Katus of Rapid City - who defeated Republican Elli Schwiesow in a heated contest focused largely on abortion - said he looks forward to getting to work on other issues, such as education.

"We just got our priorities out of whack," Katus said. "We've got other things to deal with."

Reach Megan Myers at 331-2257.
US: Vote NO to South Dakota's Referred Law 6 virtually prohibiting all abortions Print E-mail

Monday November 6 2006

Women’s human rights on the line this week in the U.S.

lmarshalls Icon By Lucinda Marshall

Every year, approximately 70,000 die from unsafe abortions, according to the World Health Organization. Despite that, the debate over women’s human right to chose what is best for herself is being debated at a fever pitch this week. Tomorrow voters in South Dakota will decide whether to support the nation’s most restrictive ban on abortion and on Wednesday the Supreme Court starts to hear arguments on the constitutionality of the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act.

And in the meantime, inquiring minds want to know how Bill OReilly got access to abortion records that were recently turned over to Kansas Attorney General Phil Kline after a 2 year battle over the privacy rights of women obtaining abortions. According to an AP report, OReilly claims that,

“a “source inside” told the show that Tiller performs late-term abortions when a patient is depressed, which O’Reilly deemed “executing babies.”

O’Reilly also said his show has evidence that Tiller’s clinic and another unnamed clinic have broken Kansas law by failing to report potential rapes with victims ages 10 to 15.”

As the WHO report makes clear, abortion deaths, which account for 13% of all maternal deaths are almost entirely preventable. According to Dorothy Shaw, president-elect of the International Federation of Gynecology and Obstetrics (FIGO),unsafe abortion,

“is rooted in poverty, social inequity and denial of women’s basic rights. Almost anywhere in the world, a woman with resources can obtain a safe termination of an unwanted pregnancy… a woman without resources often finds that a safe procedure is beyond her means.”

Activist Mary Lou Greenberg is in South Dakota this week and below with her kind permission is her second report on South Dakota’s Referred Law 6. It is a chilling reminder that despite all the rhetoric of democracy and freedom, the human rights of women are far from assured in the United States.


2nd Report from South Dakota by Mary Lou Greenberg:

In these final days before Tuesday’s election, the battle over the most restrictive abortion ban in the country is intensifying. What happens here in South Dakota will have big ramifications for the entire country and for Roe itself, the 1973 Supreme court decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

If people vote to keep Referred Law 6 that prohibits all abortions except to prevent the death of the woman, it will be a big victory for the fascist theocrats. If this happens, pro-choice forces plan to take it to the courts where it will likely end up before the Supreme Court. This law was written specifically to directly challenge Roe, the 1973 Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion, and will provide an opportunity for the Court, now stacked with anti-abortion justices led by Samuel Alito, to overturn Roe or further eviscerate it. If voters reject the ban, the SD legislature will likely come up with a similar law and the battle will begin again in the state.

On the ground here, the fight around the law has created a highly politicized atmosphere, and while a recent poll has shown that a majority of voters are opposed to the ban, the area has been flooded with anti-abortion signs and ads. Drivers coming into the downtown section of the city Friday were faced with anti-abortion forces holding huge “Yes on 6” signs at major intersections. Yard signs urging a “yes” vote appeared all over the area in the last few weeks, and although you can see a number of “No on 6” signs now, residents say many of their friends and associates refuse to put the signs in their yards for fear of harassment and being called “baby killers.” Some who have been outspoken against the ban find many of their colleagues are supportive but fearful of going public themselves.

This reminds me of the situation faced by many abortion providers across the country who are told by other physicians that they are glad someone is providing these services but refuse to offer abortions themselves. And those who do continue to provide abortions are increasingly harassed, assaulted and even killed.

At a debate on Referred Law 6 at University of Sioux Falls Wednesday night, one of the pro-ban speakers, Dr. Alan Unruh (a chiropractor) called the physician who flies into the Planned Parenthood clinic here a “rogue doctor” in an outrageous effort to imply that this doctor was outside the pale of responsible medicine. In reality, this doctor, and others like him/her across the country, are heroes for continuing to provide reproductive choice for women despite grave hardship and ongoing threats to themselves and their families.

As it is, SD is one of the states with the most restrictions in the country, including a 24-hour waiting period, mandatory couseling to discourage the procedure, and parental notification for minors. There is only one clinic in the state, Sioux Falls Planned Parenthood, that offers abortions, and they do so only one day a week.

The Planned Parenthood clinic itself has been the scene of increasing anti-abortion protests, and one college student who went to the clinic for birth control pills told me antis attempt to videotape women going in, take photos of their license plates, and then post the pictures on a website, calling on people to identify the “baby killers.”

At the Wednesday night debate, Unruh went on to lie about the reasons women get abortions – he actually said, they get abortions because “they can’t fit into their bikini.” He decried the lack of “self-discipline,” and said unrestricted abortion and sex education were a “formula to destroy America” and send it into a “moral freefall.” In other words, sex outside heterosexual marriage and procreation is what’s destroying the country.

The anti-abortion side also blatently lied about the law itself, saying that it allows women who’ve been raped to get Plan B, emergency conception that can prevent pregnancy if taken shortly after unprotected sex. First, the hypocrisy here is astounding as these are the very forces who have campaigned against Plan B. Second, and most important, as the “No on 6″ side emphasized, Plan B to be most effective must be taken within 72 hours to be most effective. Even then it is not 100 percent effective, and women who have been raped may be too traumatized in the immediate aftermath to even think of getting it. Plus, pharmacists here can refuse to fill prescriptions for emergency contraception, and about half the pharmacies don’t dispense it.

Letters to the editor in the Argus Leader show the intensity of the struggle. Letters from anti-abortion readers predominate, citing Biblical references and calling on women to trust in God and Jesus. The pro-choice side holds its own, however, and one letter in Friday’s paper graphically painted a picture of what the situation will be if the abortion ban is upheld. He wrote:

“One of the first autopsies I performed when I arrived in Sioux Falls in 1966 was on a 16-year-old girl who died of infection and a perforated uterus, again the result of a locally performjed, illegal back-alley abortion…Since desperate women who wish to end a pregnancy will find a way to do so, they should have a way to do so in a safe and clean environment that does not place their lives in jeopardy. Please vote “no” on Referred Law 6.”

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


"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)

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