- The Washington Times - Tuesday, January 20, 2004

The American public appears to be turning away from support for abortion on demand, but the issue promises to be a political, legislative and cultural battleground again this election year.

“There is growing pro-life sentiment, particularly among the younger age cohorts,” said Douglas Johnson, legislative director of the National Right to Life Committee.

For example, in November a Gallup poll of more than 500 teens found that 72 percent saw abortion as “morally wrong” instead of “morally acceptable.” And last summer, the Center for the Advancement of Women, a pro-choice organization, said from 2001 to 2003, surveys showed that women increasingly wanted more restrictions on abortion.

That trend has stirred both pro-life and pro-choice groups, which this week will mark the 31st anniversary of the landmark Roe v. Wade decision, the Supreme Court decision that struck down state laws against abortion.

The debate over partial-birth abortion undoubtedly changed some attitudes, said Mr. Johnson, because it educated the public about what he called the “brutal realities” of abortion. President Bush’s Nov. 5 signing of legislation banning partial-birth abortion, he added, was a major pro-life milestone and marked the “first federal ban on a method of abortion since Roe v. Wade.”

The partial-birth law currently is blocked by three federal lawsuits, and pro-choice groups are mounting an aggressive defense, including a march on Washington and a campaign to recruit supporters from the next generation of women.

“We are at a crossroads,” NARAL Pro-Choice America said in the statement. The group is one of the sponsors of the April 25 March for Women’s Lives, billed as the largest pro-choice rally since 1992.

“Only a powerful, grass-roots, pro-choice movement can stop [pro-life policy-makers] from taking away our freedom. It’s our choice, and this is our moment,” said NARAL Pro-Choice, which also has launched Generation Pro-Choice to attract young pro-choice women.

This year’s presidential election is vitally important to the abortion issue, both sides say.

If President Bush is re-elected and gets to appoint at least two new Supreme Court justices, “it could mean the end of reproductive privacy and the end of Roe v. Wade,” said Kate Michelman, former president of NARAL Pro-Choice.

The upcoming election is “the most important in my lifetime,” she said recently at the National Press Club. “We put a pro-choice president in the White House [with President Clinton], … and we can do it again.”

Mr. Johnson also sees the 2004 election as critical because in a few years, the U.S. Supreme Court is likely to address the challenges to the partial-birth ban.

It will take just a one-vote change on the court to uphold the ban, he says, so “it’s not far-fetched to think that the outcome of the partial-birth law may rest on this election.”

Other key battles this year are likely to include “emergency contraception” and “fetal rights.”

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is expected to decide this spring whether Plan B, a high-dose birth-control-pill product, can be sold over the counter as emergency contraception. Plan B interrupts or blocks a pregnancy if taken within 72 hours of intercourse.

Pro-choice groups, who say easy access to emergency contraception dramatically will reduce unwanted pregnancies and abortions, are pleased that influential panels have recommended that the FDA approve over-the-counter status for Plan B.

The recommendations are “a very encouraging sign — the FDA normally follows the advice of their advisory committees so it would be pretty extraordinary if they don’t,” said Susanne Martinez, vice president for public policy at Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

Conservative and many pro-life groups counter that the pills are medically risky and could act as abortifacients.

In Congress, advocates expect a debate on the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which would allow an assailant to be charged with two crimes if a woman’s unborn child is injured or killed during a violent crime. Pro-life groups say such a law, which wouldn’t apply to abortions, would validate the injury or loss of the unborn child. Pro-choice groups say it’s a “sneak attack” on abortion rights because it “grants embryos and fetuses unprecedented rights.”

Statistically, the number of abortions has declined, from a peak of 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.3 million in 2000, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI).

AGI studies also have found that the number of hospitals performing abortions has fallen from 1,000 in 1990 to 600 in 2000, and the number of doctors performing abortions has dipped from 2,000 in 1996 to 1,819 in 2000.

Both sides claimed significant victories in 2003. For example, pro-choice supporters cheered:

• The capture of abortion-clinic bomber Eric Rudolph, a life sentence for abortion-doctor killer James Kopp, and the execution of Paul Hill, who gunned down an abortion doctor and his bodyguard. These punishments show the importance of laws that protect safe access to clinics, said Ms. Martinez.

• The U.S. Supreme Court, for allowing to stand a lower-court ruling that found that pro-life groups were guilty of producing threatening “wanted posters” about abortion providers. The defendants in Planned Parenthood v. American Coalition of Life Activists have been ordered to pay $12 million in general damages plus as-yet unspecified punitive damages.

Pro-life supporters, meanwhile, were heartened by:

• Expanded use of four-dimensional ultrasound, which shows detailed fetal movement in real time. Thomas Glessner, founder of the National Institute for Family and Life Advocates, says widespread use of the technology could reduce the number of abortions performed to 500,000 by 2010.

• The “Silent No More” awareness campaign, which represents a growing number of women and men who have suffered because of abortion. The campaign, led by actress Jennifer O’Neill, is gathering at the U.S. Supreme Court tomorrow.

• Efforts by abortion icons Norma McCorvey and Sandra Cano to overturn their landmark court decisions. Mrs. McCorvey’s case against Roe v. Wade is on appeal to a federal court; Mrs. Cano’s case against Doe v. Bolton is before a federal judge in Atlanta, said a spokeswoman for the Justice Foundation in Texas, which is representing the two women.

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