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The Attack Has Begun

Below the Belt: A Biweekly Column by NOW President Kim Gandy

March 8, 2006

The attack has begun. Women are counting on us and we must not lose this fight.

This week South Dakota enacted a ban on all abortions except to save the life of the woman. Her health and future fertility do not matter to the South Dakota legislature or Governor Rounds. The fact that a woman has survived rape or incest does not matter to them. Because THEY know what is best for her and for her family, and they intend to force their will on her. Will your state be next?

The fight we have been warning you about—the fight to overturn Roe v. Wade and end all abortions—is very real and it is now well underway.

And, to make things worse, wily conservatives, determined to wage and win the war against women, haven't pinned their plan on South Dakota alone; they are pushing in sixteen other states with laws on the books or bills under consideration that are similar to the law in South Dakota.

But not every conservative wants an immediate challenge to Roe in the Supreme Court. Some want to continue pursuing the strategy that has been successful so far—and has already made access more and more difficult. This is especially true in rural states like South Dakota and Mississippi, where the lone clinic in each state already has to fly doctors in to perform abortions. Here's an excerpt from today's editorial in the National Review:

"Pro-lifers have gained ground over the last decade and a half by pursuing a savvy incremental strategy. That strategy puts the end of Roe within sight. If Roe falls, pro-lifers should then try to persuade the public in each state to prohibit most abortions. After that, they should try to persuade them to prohibit abortion in the case of rape and incest. To try to collapse this multi-stage process into an instant is to ignore social and political circumstances, and to throw away patiently and painfully won political victories for the sake of an emotional gesture."

But they're not in unison. When I debated Tony Perkins, head of the Family Research Council, on Hardball last night, he flatly denied that they have any interest in a federal abortion ban that would apply in every state. They want an outright overturn of Roe, not a federal statute that could be revoked by a pro-choice Congressional majority.

Everyone who thought we've been crying "wolf" since Sandra Day O'Connor stepped down last year now has to face the cold, hard reality that the days of safe, legal abortions may be numbered.

Laws like this one, without an exception for the health of the woman, have been overturned time and again by a Supreme Court with O'Connor on the bench. But O'Connor is gone, and our rights may follow because the right-wing conservatives have gotten their way.

Need more proof that the radical right is pulling all the strings? Read Sam Alito's letter to Focus on the Family President James Dobson, reported by The Associated Press.

"This is just a short note to express my heartfelt thanks to you and the entire staff of Focus on the Family for your help and support during the past few challenging months," Alito wrote. "I would also greatly appreciate it if you would convey my appreciation to the good people from all parts of the country who wrote to tell me that they were praying for me and for my family during this period."

Alito went on to write, "As long as I serve on the Supreme Court I will keep in mind the trust that has been placed in me."

Good grief! What ever happened to an "independent judiciary"? I can't decide what's more frightening: that a Supreme Court justice wrote such a grossly inappropriate letter or that it hasn't resulted in an outcry. Like every other piece of news that gives me the chills, this has been largely brushed under the rug and I am fuming.

Thankfully, there is some justice left in this country when it comes to reproductive rights. After the Massachusetts pharmacy board leaned on Wal-Mart last month to stock emergency contraception in stores in that state, the retail giant has come to the conclusion that it might be wise to do so across the country—before other state agencies get the chance to step in. Wal-Mart announced Friday that the morning-after pill (the one known as Plan B) will be available in all its stores, although they are still allowing their pharmacists to refuse filling the prescriptions and send customers packing to another pharmacist or pharmacy. Well, a win is a win, and this victory calls for a celebration. Kudos to the NOW activists who since 2002 have been picketing, demonstrating and calling on Wal-Mart to grow a conscience. If they won't do it voluntarily, we have the law on our side.

While we're celebrating some wins, we're also mourning a loss: Last week the Supreme Court sided against us in our 20-year fight to end violence outside women's health clinics.

The Court's ruling marked the end of Scheidler v. NOW and Operation Rescue v. NOW, cases we've been fighting since 1986, after we filed a lawsuit to stop the groups that were planning and coordinating the rising campaign of violence that terrorized women and healthcare providers. NOW brought charges against the leaders and the groups who were leading the attacks, and the resulting injunction protected clinics nationwide. NOW’s decades of commitment to this fight on behalf of patients and clinic workers contributed significantly to the dramatic reduction in clinic violence that we have witnessed in recent years.

The nationwide injunction brought into focus the need to find ways to stem future violence. Expanding the dialogue about clinic violence helped us pass the Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act in 1994, and we will use FACE to prevent the violence from beginning again. Unfortunately, the injunction was our strongest defense against the thugs who would like to take away a woman's rights by any means necessary.

Between South Dakota's ban and the loss of NOW v. Scheidler, there hasn't been much to cheer about these days. But these losses are opening eyes and changing minds. Every new battle serves to mobilize women and the men who care. New activists are joining our movement, experienced members are mobilizing and, working together, they will provide the energy for the fight. If you haven't rejoined the fight, NOW is the time. You can update your membership online, and to find a chapter near you. If there isn't one, you can start it!

Help us make clear this warning to every elected official: You are either with us or you are against us.

It's time to gear up, because the next fight is here.

For equality and justice,

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