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The Struggle to Retain Abortion Rights in the United States

By June 22, 2004News

– Release date: 23 June 2004

March for Women’s Lives

On April 25, 2004 over 1 million pro-choice advocates from all across the United States gathered in Washington D.C. to attend the March for Women’s Lives. The march was organized to advocate for women’s health and reproductive freedoms. Seven national women’s groups worked together to organize the historic march and rally including Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

The March began and ended with a pro-choice rally. At the rally celebrities, politicians, clergy, and activists spoke about the current assaults on reproductive rights as well as ways in which the pro-choice majority could rise up and defend our civil liberties.
In addition, some focused on expanding the pro-choice agenda and putting disenfranchised groups of people at the forefront of the movement. Caricia Catalina from the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health said, “We are here to remind everyone that choice is about more than legal freedoms. It means access to doctors. It means access to education. It means access to care in your language”.

The actual march consisted mainly of people chanting and carrying signs with feminist and pro-choice messages. An array of signs announced the marchers’ identities combined with their commitment to reproductive choice: Another Lesbian for Choice, Another Mother for Choice, Another Woman of Colour for Choice, Another Jew for Choice, Another Catholic for Choice, Another Youth for Choice etc.

The march could not have been convened at a more critical time in our historical battle for reproductive rights, summoned between recent government attacks on reproductive freedoms and the United States presidential election which is just around the corner.

The Bush Administration has been on a crusade to abolish reproductive freedoms. By reinstating the Mexico City Policy (the Global Gag Rule), foreign NGO’s who use their own funding to council, refer, lobby, or provide abortion services can not receive any funding from the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID); the effects of this policy have been detrimental to women all around the world.

In addition, money allocated for family planning has been used for abstinence only sex education programs and a piece of federal legislation was enacted that gives a foetus rights separate from the women carrying it, titled the “unborn victims of violence act”.

Lastly, the United States Supreme Court justices recently upheld Roe V. Wade (the supreme court case that legalized abortion in the United States) by a 5-4 vote. If any one of the pro-choice Supreme Court justices retires, dies, or for whatever reason cannot fulfil his judicial duties then whoever replaces him will be able to decide whether or not abortion will remain a legal right in the United States. Bush’s re-election almost guarantees that an anti-choice justice will be appointed to the Supreme Court…and just like that Roe V. Wade could be overturned.

The most inspiring and poignant aspect of the march was that the speakers and attendants showed that the pro-choice movement is ever growing in diversity and working endlessly to broaden the meaning of reproductive choice. The participants at the march were diverse in age, race, sexual orientation, gender, political ideologies, and country of origin (57 countries were represented).

The result: a progressive new agenda for the movement. Reproductive choice is no longer just about having the legal right to have an abortion or not, it is about health care, economic justice, equality, and creating a free society; it is expanding into a full-fledged international social justice movement, a movement fighting for the rights of all people all around the world.

United States Partial Birth Abortion Ban

On November 6, 2003 President Bush signed into law a ban on so-called “Partial Birth Abortion,” In the first piece of federal legislation limiting a woman’s legal right to abortion in the United States since Roe v. Wade (the Supreme Court case that legalized abortion in the United States).

In it, partial birth abortion is defined as any procedure in which an abortion provider “deliberately and intentionally vaginally delivers a living foetus” part way out of a woman’s body and then “performs the overt act … that kills the partially delivered living foetus”.

The ban does not include an exception for the pregnant women’s health. Partial birth abortion is not a medical term used to describe one specific abortion procedure; it is a term created by anti-choice activists and politicians. The ambiguity of the definition compels some doctors to speculate that it could to refer to an array of common and safe abortion procedures performed after the first trimester.

Approximately 99% of abortions are performed before 24 weeks, when the foetus becomes viable. In extreme cases, third trimester abortions are performed due to severe foetal abnormalities or when continuing the pregnancy poses a threat to the woman’s health.

The “Unborn Victims of Violence Act”

In another attempt to give foetuses personhood, President Bush signed the “Unborn Victims of Violence Act” in April this year. Now under federal law anyone who harms a pregnant women and in the process causes death to or injures the foetus will be charged with a separate offence, in addition to any charges connected to the pregnant women.

This is the first piece of legislation that gives foetuses rights separate from the pregnant women. It directly contradicts Roe v. Wade (the supreme court case that legalized abortion in the United States), which upholds “the unborn have never been recognized in the law as persons in the whole sense.”

Pro-choice representatives presented alternative legislation as a means to take a strong stand against violence directed towards pregnant women, in which those who committed crimes against pregnant women would face stronger prison terms. In addition, Representative Patty Murray suggested an amendment that would target the underlying cause of most violence directed towards pregnant women: addressing domestic violence. By increasing funding and support for women who are victims of domestic violence. These suggestions prove that there are ways to decrease violence against pregnant women without giving foetuses legal rights.

However, both these suggestions were struck down.

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By Amanda Singer. Amanda is an intern with the IFPA. She worked for the Civil Liberity and Public Policy Programme at New Hampshire College where she coordinated the College's delegation to the March for Women's Lifes.

Useful Links
– The White House Website: President Bush Signs Unborn Victims of Violence Act
NARAL Pro-Choice Washington: News Updates Unborn Victims of Violence Act
The Abortion Access Project The So-Called "Partial-Birth" Abortion Ban