January 20, 2013

Abortion issue as divisive as ever

While both sides claim momentum, there's been no shift toward consensus in either direction, 40 years after Roe v. Wade.

The Associated Press

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Norma McCorvey, Jane Roe in the 1973 court case, left, and her attorney Gloria Allred leave the Supreme Court building in Washington in 1989 after sitting in while the court heard a Missouri abortion case.

Associated Press file photos

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Activists pray outside an abortion clinic in Wichita, Kan., in 2007.

"All these things got Americans angry and got them to realize just how extreme the other side is," said Jennifer Dalven, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Reproductive Freedom Project.

"This issue will remain very divisive," she said. "But I do see this as a sea-change moment ... The American public wants abortion to remain safe, legal and accessible."

However, anti-abortion leaders insist they have reason for optimism, particularly at the state level.

In the past two years, following Republican election gains in 2010, Republican-dominated state legislatures have passed more than 130 bills intended to reduce access to abortion. The measures include mandatory counseling and ultrasound for women seeking abortions, bans on abortion after 20 weeks of pregnancy, curbs on how insurers cover the procedure and new regulations for abortion clinics.

The ACLU and other abortion-rights groups are challenging several of the laws in court, notably the 20-week ban. Yet already this year, Republican leaders in Texas, Mississippi and elsewhere are talking about new legislative efforts to restrict abortion.

Mississippi's Gov. Phil Bryant says he wants to end abortion in the state and is eager for the remaining clinic, the Jackson Women's Health Organization, to close.

The clinic is a steady target of anti-abortion protesters who take turns praying, singing hymns and confronting patients. Its administrator, Diane Derzis, said the three principal physicians on her staff have been unable to get admitting privileges at area hospitals due to pressure from the anti-abortion movement.

Such developments hearten Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, one of the groups most active in proposing anti-abortion bills for state legislatures to consider.

She believes that young Americans are increasingly skeptical about abortion, though polls give mixed verdicts.

"It is really easy to explain the pro-life position to a child -- it's hard to explain to them why you should kill a baby before it's born," Yoest said.

Supporters of legal access to abortion dispute the notion of swelling anti-abortion sentiment among young people, but some activists do sense a gap in terms of political intensity.

"I have enormous hope in this millennial generation -- they're progressive, thoughtful and they identify in their pro-choice values," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America for eight years.

"But there is an intensity gap -- they don't act on those values," she said. "The other side votes their anti-choice, pro-life values -- it's at the top of their political activity."

 

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