Roe in the Spotlite

Roe v. Wade foes, supporters watch Bush

By David Crary

January 22, 2005

NEW YORK – Coming just two days after President Bush's inauguration, today's anniversary of the 1973 Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion is dominated by the hopes of one side – and fears of the other – that Bush will try to overturn Roe v. Wade through appointments to fill expected high court vacancies.

Abortion opponents were among the legions of Bush supporters converging on Washington in the past few days, and most will remain for Monday's annual March for Life. Though Bush is widely admired within the movement, some of its activists still question his commitment to reversing the 32-year-old decision.

"President Bush has an ethical obligation to protect the unborn, and he has a political debt of honor to those who put him in office," said Randall Terry, founder of Operation Rescue. "His staff must thoroughly investigate any possible appointee, and if they are not unalterably committed to overturning Roe v. Wade, they must be dismissed from consideration."

Anti-abortion lawmakers in Congress and several statehouses are introducing the latest in a wave of measures aimed at making it more daunting to get an abortion. The bills would require abortion providers to tell women 20 weeks or more pregnant that an abortion could cause pain to their fetus, and to offer anesthesia administered directly to the fetus.

Some abortion-rights supporters are wondering openly if their rhetoric and strategies should be modified to better compete for public support.

Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice, is suggesting there is little to be gained in the court of public opinion by opposing the notion that a fetus represents some form of human life. She proposes "a new pro-choice discourse" that would acknowledge both women's rights and respect for fetal life.

However, Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, said abortion-rights supporters should not cede the terrain of "moral values" to their opponents.

"Our movement is on stronger ground when we take seriously the moral dimensions of the issue," she said.

Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation, said her fears about future judicial appointments were tempered by polls indicating most Americans don't want Roe v. Wade overturned, and she agreed with Keenan that "we shouldn't think that the positions we've taken are not just and moral."

Saporta and her allies are reacting cautiously to the federal bill regarding fetal pain.

"We're looking at the science behind that bill," she said. "We want to make sure women get correct medical and scientific information."

"Abortion should be a humane and compassionate procedure," Kissling wrote in the latest edition of her organization's journal.

Dave Andrusko of the National Right to Life Committee accused Kissling of "Alice in Wonderland" reasoning. You can't concede that a fetus is human, and then say it's allowable to destroy it, he argues.

In addition to Congress, fetal pain bills are being introduced in Arkansas, Colorado, Montana and elsewhere. Another Montana bill would require issuing death certificates for abortions; South Dakota lawmakers could vote to ban abortions altogether.

Meanwhile, some Republican abortion-rights supporters are upset with new party Chairman Ken Mehlman for planning to host a salute to those who participate in Monday's march.

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