Today marks the 34th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, and as thousands descend on the District to protest abortion, some new twists have emerged on the political landscape, including a Democrat-controlled Congress, an upcoming Supreme Court decision and a burgeoning presidential race.
With Democrats in charge of the House and Senate, some pro-choice leaders see an opportunity to affirm and protect the landmark 1973 ruling that made abortion a constitutional right.
“I do believe that there are some opportunities for affirmative legislation that would protect women’s lives and health,” said Vicki Saporta, president of the National Abortion Federation. “We don’t expect further abortion restrictions to move through Congress.”
Still, it remains to be seen how Democratic leaders will handle the abortion issue.
The pro-life community — participating in the annual March for Life today — is readying itself for Democrats seeking more funding for groups that support abortion and perhaps lifting restrictions on federal funding for abortion.
But pro-life leaders note the House will still take a pro-life stance on many issues and that President Bush will likely veto objectionable legislation.
“We just need to do all we can to make the case that abortion exploits women and destroys children,” said Rep. Christopher H. Smith, New Jersey Republican and chairman of the Bipartisan Congressional Pro-Life Caucus.
Mr. Smith also expects some Democrats — especially those with their eyes on the White House — to strike a moderate, seemingly pro-life tone on abortion.
“There may be a bogus attempt to claim common ground while money is being given to Planned Parenthood,” he said, warning pro-lifers to be skeptical.
Meanwhile, activists on both sides are awaiting a decision by the Supreme Court, expected before June, on whether to uphold a federal law banning an abortion procedure sometimes called partial-birth abortion.
The pro-life community argued the law bans a procedure in which a half-born baby is killed, while the pro-choice community argued it’s too broad and would ban a range of abortions.
The high court overturned a similar Nebraska law in 2000, but the Republican-controlled Congress approved a new federal ban in 2003. It was challenged in three separate lawsuits and overturned by federal courts.
But in the meantime, the pro-life movement scored a key victory with the confirmation of two new conservative Supreme Court justices — Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. in 2005 and Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. last year.
More pressing is who will control the White House in 2008.
EMILY’S List, a group that aims to elect pro-choice Democratic women, quickly endorsed Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, New York Democrat, who announced her presidential candidacy Saturday.
At the same time, the pro-life Susan B. Anthony List invited several likely presidential candidates to a breakfast this morning, including Sen. Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and pro-life leader.
“We have to establish upfront that a presidential candidate’s stance on life will be a deciding factor for a large number of voters,” said the group’s president, Marjorie Dannenfelser
Mrs. Clinton is sponsoring legislation that’s billed as a way to reduce unintended pregnancies — and therefore, abortions — with initiatives, such as more federal funding for family planning.
Nonetheless, much of the action on the abortion issue will continue to take place at the state level. Last year, the South Dakota Legislature passed an abortion ban, but it was overturned by state voters in a November ballot initiative.
Ms. Saporta said this was a key victory for the pro-choice side. She also touted other victories, including a new California law seeking to protect abortion providers from anti-abortion crimes.
But Tom McClusky, vice president of government affairs at the Family Research Council, said the South Dakota situation “is not stopping other states,” five of which are considering some sort of abortion ban.
And the fight continues.
Ms. Saporta said she thinks states will continue to try to restrict abortion, but she doesn’t expect the courts to take “any action that would result in Roe being overturned.”
Mr. Smith said he and others will continue to work to restrict and ultimately stop abortion.
“We think of ourselves as the modern-day abolition movement,” Mr. Smith said. “Slavery was not abolished overnight.”