This Sunday, as many as one million women are expected to gather in Washington in support of reproductive rights. The March for Women’s Lives, as it’s called, may be the largest ever pro-choice rally in the U.S. The women’s groups organizing the march say that “threats [to women’s rights] have never been so systematic and coordinated, and the lives and health of women have never faced such peril.”
How so? For a start, the Bush administration has mounted a steady — if stealthy — assault on reproductive rights, and second, because many women feel that Bush has a very poor record on women’s rights in general.
The march is sponsored by seven leading national women’s rights groups: The American Civil Liberties Union, Black Women’s Health Imperative, Feminist Majority, NARAL Pro-Choice America, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the National Organization for Women, and Planned Parenthood Federation of America.
The web site for the march lists 16 Democratic senators and Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vt.) as honorary congressional co-sponsors. On the House side, 91 Democrats, four Republicans and Rep. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) have endorsed the march. John Kerry is not among the march’s honorary co-sponsors.
Although Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in 1973, the case is seen as vulnerable and shoring it up is an ongoing battle for pro-choicers. To the alarm of women’s rights groups, many states currently face radical anti-abortion legislation geared toward the eventual goal of overturning Roe v. Wade. The situation is even more fragile because of the widely expected retirement of Chief Justice Rehnquist and Sandra Day O’Connor, which could upset the delicate 5-4 balance that ruled the case initially. If Bush makes it past November and names their successors, the court could tilt further to the right.
An article in Salon provides a list of states facing anti-abortion legislation. In South Dakota, the state congress came within one vote of an anti-abortion law that would have outlawed the procedure entirely at any stage of pregnancy, with the only exception being that of saving the woman’s life. A bill in the Georgia Legislature would “provide that any person seeking to have an abortion … shall first file a petition in the Superior Court.” In Oklahoma, a bill was introduced that would require a woman considering an abortion to obtain a death warrant. In Iowa, a bill would require a woman to obtain permission from a judge before getting an abortion and allows for no exception for the health life of the woman.
Less extreme, but still frightening to reproductive rights activists, the Michigan Legislature passed the Legal Birth Definition Act that — in addition to including the vague partial-birth language yet again — defines fetal viability so vaguely as to allow restrictions on abortion in the first trimester.
As Salon points out, “the apparent strategy” of state conservatives who propose the anti-abortion laws is “to enact an unconstitutional law in order to draw a court challenge that would make its way up to the Supreme Court — just as Bush’s appointees are joining other conservatives on the bench.”
According to Planned Parenthood, 14 states have introduced 29 bills banning abortion outright.
Pro-choice supporters are also worried that they are losing numbers, especially among the young. The current generation is more pro-life than the previous one; recent polls show a steady erosion of support for abortion rights among the post-Roe
generation. Last fall UCLA found that 55 percent of freshmen at more than 400 schools said abortion should be legal, down from 64 percent a decade earlier.
Women’s rights groups’s complaints with the Bush administration go beyond abortion to embrace broader issues. Three organizations released a scorecard grading the Bush administration on issues affecting women internationally. The groups gave the administration a “C” grade for rhetoric, and an “F” for reality on international family planning and for reviving the global gag rule, a Reagan-era rule that denies U.S. funds to international family planning groups that use their own money for abortion counseling, services or lobbying activities that are legal within their own countries. The administration got a “B” for rhetoric on Women and the Emergency Plan for Global AIDS Relief, but a “D” on action.
Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, one of the three groups to release the scorecard, said Bush’s policies are “desperately injuring the poorest women in developing nations. Despite pledges that the U.S. supports international family planning, President Bush has placed ideological restrictions on these programs and backed away from established international agreements that protect women and children’s health.”
Last week, the National Women’s Law Center, a nonprofit research and policy center in Washington, released a report identifying 10 policy women’s rights issues that the Bush administration is “backsliding” on The report (PDF), called “Slip-Sliding Away: The Erosion of Hard-Won Gains for Women Under the Bush Administration and an Agenda for Moving Forward” documents administration actions — some of them “under the radar” — that are bad for women.
For instance, Bush’s budget would cut funding for emergency shelters, rape crisis hotlines and other domestic violence services; the administration’s political agenda has distorted scientific information, like an inaccurate statement issued by The National Institute of Cancer claiming that abortion causes breast cancer; a plan to privatize Social Security would particularly harm women workers, who generally earn less than men; budget and tax cuts will reduce or end services and programs needed by working mothers; and more.
Nancy Duff Campbell, NWLC Co-President, said: “The Administration’s policies are reversing progress for women and girls across the board – their opportunities to succeed in work and in school, their economic security, and their health and reproductive rights. The few positive steps the Administration has taken to help women are overshadowed by the overwhelming number of proposals that hurt them.”