32 years later, Roe v. Wade still safeguards womens rights

Every minute a woman dies in childbirth or pregnancy. Access to basic family planning could save up to 25 percent of these women’s lives. But thanks to Bush’s Global Gag Rule, many family planning clinics in some of the world’s poorest countries have been forced to reduce staff and services or close their doors altogether.

This week marks the anniversary of the global gag rule, the Reagan-era policy reinstated by President Bush on his first day in office, four years ago. The global gag rule states that nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) that accept United States population assistance have to agree not to provide abortions. They also may not refer patients to other abortion providers, counsel patients on the option of abortion, or even lobby for abortion legalization or reform in their countries. They may not participate in any of these activities, even if they do so with their own funds.

Access to information on the full range of reproductive options is key to making informed health care decisions. Currently, 18 U.S. states have laws prohibiting all or some state employees or organizations receiving state funds from counseling or referring women for abortion services.

Jan. 22 marks the 32nd anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, which legalized abortion. As the administration embarks on four more years of anti-choice rhetoric and policies, NARAL Pro-Choice America has released the its annual publication, “Who Decides? The Status of Women’s Reproductive Rights in the United States.” NARAL Pro-Choice America is a leading advocate of personal privacy and a woman’s right to choose.

With President Bush poised to name activists to fill likely vacancies on the U.S. Supreme Court, the report findings indicate that, if Roe v. Wade were overturned, 19 states would quickly outlaw abortion, while another 19 could follow closely behind.

The politically charged issue comes before the court as both sides gird for a possible bitter nomination fight over Chief Justice William H. Rehnquist’s replacement should the ailing justice retire this term. At least three justices, including Rehnquist, have said Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided and should be overturned.

“State legislators are continuing to chip away at women’s freedom — and they are prepared to go much further if George Bush succeeds in his goal of overturning Roe v. Wade,” NARAL Pro-Choice America President Nancy Keenan said in a recent statement.

In 2004 alone, state legislatures considered 714 anti-choice measures — an increase of 28 percent over the previous year’s figure. Michigan enacted a near-total ban on abortions even in the early stages, the most far-reaching restriction on the right to choose by a state in more than 10 years. It is set to take effect in March and is certain to face a legal challenge that could well end up in the Supreme Court.

A bill banning abortions throughout pregnancy failed by one vote in the South Dakota Senate. As a result of the recent elections, the bill is expected to pass this year.

There are only four states where both the majority of the legislature and the governor are pro-choice: Connecticut, Maine, New Jersey and Washington.

crummel@pww.org