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The Abortion Debate

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Abortion has been a topic of fierce debate and opposition since Roe v. Wade legalized abortion in January of 1973.  On an individual basis abortion is more of a moral issue than anything else.  There is an emotional struggle that is fought based upon religious beliefs.  Most opposed to abortion believe that life begins at conception and therefore it is murder to have an abortion.  Many feminists argue that whether or not you personally believe in abortion you should not force your beliefs or a deny a person the right to make their own choice about their body.  In Roe, the Supreme Court found that a woman's right to decide whether to become a parent deserves the highest level of constitutional protection.


The court also recognized that the right to privacy is not absolute and that a state has valid interests in safeguarding maternal health and protecting potential life. According to the court, a state's interest in potential maternal health is not compelling until the second trimester of pregnancy and its interest in potential life is not "compelling" until viability, the point in pregnancy at which there is a reasonable possibility for the sustained survival of the fetus outside the womb. A state may - but is not required to - prohibit abortion after viability, except when it is necessary to protect a woman's life or health.  The right to make childbearing decisions has also enabled women to pursue educational and employment opportunities that were often unthinkable a generation ago. The Supreme Court noted in 1992 that "the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives" (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey, 1992). Justice Harry Blackmun, the author of Roe, called the decision "a step that had to be taken as we go down the road toward the full emancipation of women" (Greenhouse, 1994).


On a National level abortion is a political debate.  Politicians go back and forth about whether abortion should be legal.  Conservatives are opposed to abortion and Liberals are not.  Today the right to abortion is again threatened. The court's latest decision, Stenberg v. Carhart (2000), struck down, by a five to four margin, a law that restricted certain abortion procedures without an exception to protect the health of the woman. If one of the five Justices in the majority (three of whom will be 70 or more in 2003) should step down, a key holding of Roe - that a woman has a right to abortion to protect her health - could be in danger. If more than one Justice steps down, Roe itself could be overruled. Much depends on the president who appoints and the Senate that will confirm their replacements. In January 2003, with an anti-choice president and an anti-choice majority in place in the Senate, Roe could be in the gravest danger.


Planned Parenthood Federation of America (PPFA) today (Dec. 8, 2004) challenged President Bush's signing of the Weldon Amendment, or so-called "Abortion Non-Discrimination Act" (ANDA). The legislation, originally proposed by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and added as an amendment to the final version of the omnibus appropriations bill, will allow health care organizations to refuse to comply with existing federal, state or local laws pertaining to abortion.


"This amendment's Orwellian name makes it sound as if it protects women seeking abortions from discrimination. In fact, it discriminates against them," said PPFA President Gloria Feldt. "It also discriminates against health care providers as well as state and local governments that want to provide comprehensive women's health care. It allows any health care provider or institution, religious or otherwise, to refuse to provide a much-needed reproductive health care service. The vast majority of Americans oppose allowing health care entities to deny services to women, even if those entities claim their refusal is based on religious or moral grounds, which ANDA does not require.


This sweeping federal refusal clause will allow the whims of a corporate entity to trump the conscience and very real medical needs of women nationwide. Simply put, you ought to be able to trust your doctor or hospital to give you a full range of options and respect your health care choices. ANDA lets them discriminate against you." ANDA was added to the appropriations bill by anti-choice Rep. Dave Weldon (R-FL). The bill provides a sweeping exemption from existing laws relating to safe and legal abortion services. Health care entities, as defined by the law, include hospitals, provider-sponsored organizations, health maintenance organizations, health insurance plans or any other kind of health care facilities, organizations or plans.


Feldt said, "PPFA and others will be working to see the law blocked in the courts or repealed in Congress, where Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-TN) has promised Senator Barbara Boxer (D-CA) a vote to repeal the bill.  We will also continue to work with our allies in Congress and across the pro-choice movement to strengthen legislative protections on reproductive rights and health through measures like the Putting Prevention First Act (PPFA), which promotes family planning programs. If ANDA's anti-choice supporters really cared about preventing abortions, they would help us do more to support family planning instead of penalizing women and service providers with vague, unfair, and dangerous legislation."