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Dangerous New Law Targets Women's Rights

by Andrei Thursday, Nov. 20, 2003 at 2:29 PM


Dangerous New Law Targets Women's Rights -- RW ONLINE Dangerous New Law Targets Women's Rights The Hoax and Hype of the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act"

Revolutionary Worker #1220, November 23, 2003, posted at

On November 5, the President of the United States signed a new law making it a federal crime to perform some specific abortion procedures. This "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003" (PBABA) is the first direct federal criminalization imposed on abortion since 1973--when the Supreme Court ruling Roe v. Wade legalized abortion.

This new PBABA law threatens women's doctors with prison for performing safe, well-known medical procedures that have been needed to protect women's well-being, lives and health.

Attorney General John Ashcroft immediately ordered his agents in the Justice Department to prepare to investigate and prosecute women's doctors for performing these abortions. Doctors charged with violating the PBABA face up to two years in prison.

Federal police are back in the business of tracking women's reproductive choices and punishing doctors who carry them out.

And note well: This police work was assigned to the Civil Rights Division of the Justice Department. This means that the federal police now officially embrace the fundamentalist fiction that fetuses are legally "persons" whose so-called "civil rights" supposedly have to be police-protected-- from the choices of women and their doctors!

The October vote for this bill was 64 to 34 in the Senate, and 281 to 142 in the House. Significant numbers of Democrats voted with the extreme right (including leading Democratic senators like Daschle, Leahy, and Byrd). Democratic presidential contenders Senators John Kerry and John Edwards avoided the vote altogether. And even those liberals who opposed this bill did not filibuster to stop it.

The heights of the U.S. government-- the Congress, the White House and the federal police apparatus-- now officially promote the poisonous myth that fetuses are a persecuted group and women's doctors should be treated as criminal "baby-killers."

This is a crucial moment in the fight for women's liberation.

The Making of a Showdown

This new law is a deliberate provocation wrapped in a deliberate hoax.

It is a provocation because it was specifically written to defy the existing constitutional standard legalizing abortion. The Supreme Court's Roe decision legalizes late-term abortions if a woman's health was involved--while this new PBABA law specifically bans certain kinds of abortion even if the woman's health demands it.

This new law repeats language similar to an overturned Nebraska state law banning certain abortions, which was ruled unconstitutional in 2000 by the Supreme Court (in Stenberg v. Carhart ).

This law is so extreme that federal judges in Nebraska, New York and San Francisco immediately issued temporary injunctions barring Attorney General John Ashcroft from enforcing the new law. Ashcroft's lawyers responded by requesting a hearing on the New York injunction within 120 days. The stage is set for a major challenge to Roe v. Wade --right in the middle of this system's election season.

Women's right to choose is broadly and firmly supported by most people. But highly placed powerful forces are energetically and impatiently pushing ahead , step by step, to reverse Roe and ban abortion altogether. The plan of organized anti-abortion forces and their high-level sponsors has been to wage a "cultural war" for public opinion. President Bush himself advocated this approach during the 2000 electoral campaign, when he said that a total ban on abortion was needed but that the "culture" of the U.S. was not yet "ready" for such a ban. The invented hype about "partial birth abortion" is a spearhead of this campaign to portray abortion as murder.

The Hoax Surrounding"Partial-Birth Abortion"

"Amidst the ongoing atrocities surrounding the U.S. invasion and occupation of Iraq--following years of sanctions that killed half a million children--Bush has the gall to talk about a `culture of life.' The liar-in-chief Bush who went to war over non-existent WMDs is now lying about this. This ban on so-called `partial-birth abortion' is not about a `culture of life'--it's about enforcing a culture of traditional gender roles and further limiting women's ability to control their own reproduction and their own lives."

Mary Lou Greenberg, RCP New York Branch

"The partial-birth abortion ban is a political scam but a public relations goldmine... This bill, if it becomes law, may not save one child's life... The major benefit of this bill is the debate that surrounds it."

Randall Terry, founder of the anti- abortion group Operation Rescue, September 15, 2003

All the hype around the PBABA promotes the complete hoax that abortion is the "killing of children."

As he signed the PBABA, Bush claimed that thousands of times a year women's doctors are "violently" killing "a live boy or girl."

"For years, a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches from birth, while the law looked the other way," the President babbled.

This is nonsense.

In the first place: A fetus is not a "live boy or girl." Fetuses are not "children." Fetuses are potential humans, but they are always (by definition) part of adult women and not independent individual babies.

Second, the invention of "full legal rights of the unborn" is a way to deny adult women their right to control their own bodies and lives.

Third, there is no medical procedure known as "partial-birth abortion"--it is an invention of the Religious Right to suggest that "children" are being killed in the middle of "birth." And it is simply not true that women's doctors routinely or needlessly abort fetuses who are "inches from birth."

Statistics from the Alan Guttmacher Institute (AGI) document that 99% of all abortions occur within the first 20 weeks of pregnancy. (Human pregnancies are typically about 40 weeks long.)

Only about 1% of abortions happen after "viability"--the point at which a fetus could, potentially, live outside the womb.

A portion of late-term abortions are done by a specific medical procedure called "intact dilation and extraction" (D&X)--this procedure aborts in the last trimester by collapsing the skull and removing the fetus whole through the birth canal. It accounts for about 0.03% to 0.05% of all abortions in 1996 according to AGI reports. It is estimated that between 600 and 2000 women receive this procedure each year.

This procedure is an abortion, not a birth (partial or otherwise). And when such D&X's are selected by women and their doctors, it is because such operations are needed by women. D&X is, for example, considered when a fetus has an extreme skull deformity (like hydrocephalus) that makes normal extraction impossible.

Planned Parenthood's attorney Eve Garner said: "Any pregnancy can go terribly wrong, and this ban outlaws medically necessary abortions that women need for serious medical conditions, such as renal (kidney) failure or diabetes."

There is nothing wrong with a woman getting an abortion for any reason. And there is nothing wrong with her doctor deciding to use whatever procedure is best in her situation.

Broad Brush of Intimidation

"All you need is a couple of zealots. If some anti-abortion nurse teams up with a prosecutor, a physician could face these trumped-up allegations and prison. Physicians have known for a while that abortion providers have to face picketers, harassment, the harassment of their families, and bullets. Now they have to worry that somebody is going to make this claim against them."

Wendy Chavkin, Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

"What, are enforcement agents going to be stationed in the OR with us? And what, are they going to be watching us to make sure we don't deliver `any part of the fetal trunk past the navel'? [Reading language from the PBABA] What does that mean, anyway? Does `past' mean above or below? It's all just obstetrical nonsense."

Dr. David Grimes, 30 veteran ob-gyn, formerly at Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Anti-abortion forces have long worked to end abortions by simply making them unavailable. Funding has been cut, women have been harassed and, most shocking of all, doctors have been coldly assassinated by rightwing hit-men.

The number of abortion providers fell from 2,042 in 1996 to 1,819 in 2000. One third of women of childbearing age now live in counties with no abortion services. This makes abortions more difficult and more expensive to get--especially for poor, rural and teenage women.

The PBABA means that women's doctors now face new threats--this time from the federal authorities. And the language of the PBABA is imprecise and non-medical--so that doctors cannot be certain exactly what is now illegal.

The wording used criminalizes the rare, third trimester procedure called "intact dilation and extraction" (D&X), unless the woman would literally die without it. But this wording could also apply to many cases of "dilation and evacuation" (D&E), a safe and routine procedure used in 90% of second-trimester abortions.

Dr. LeRoy Carhart, a plaintiff in the case challenging PBABA said: "The bill would make most every procedure that I do from the 12th week on illegal."

The result is new threats to women's access and choice, even before a single doctor is indicted or imprisoned--all of which is, of course, the point.

A Festival of Ghouls

The November 5 signing was a presidential photo op for over 400 anti-women ghouls, throwbacks and outright fascists. They sat grinning, jowl to jowl, in the Ronald Reagan Office Building while Bush signed the PBABA--the evangelist-bigot Jerry Falwell, street-level tormentors of women's doctors, and ugly anti-women luminaries including the Catholic Cardinal Egan and Orrin Hatch, the senator from Mormonism.

For them this marks a moment of victory and high-level blessing.

The PBABA dangles fresh new hope that their repulsive Christian-fascist moralities may be fully imposed as state policy. It gives them a tool to energize their ugly social base--in the middle of this U.S. government offensive of war and police-state moves.

We live in an Orwellian time. Conquest is called liberation. The strangling of women mascarades as the protection of "children."

The arrogant, deceitful, reactionary passage of PBABA is against both the interests and will of the masses of people. In a political arena already heavily dominated by rightwing forces--this law marks an even more aggressive move to the right.

These forces, these values, these lies can't be allowed to shape our common future.

Women are not incubators

Fetuses are not children

Abortion is not murder

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
Write: Box 3486, Merchandise Mart, Chicago, IL 60654
Phone: 773-227-4066 Fax: 773-227-4497 - Revolutionary Worker Online -RW resource page on resisting the juggernaut of war and repression - Discuss revolutionary strategy and the RCP's Draft Programme
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Listed below are the 10 latest comments of 2 posted about this article.
These comments are anonymously submitted by the website visitors.
A woman has the right to do what she wants with her body. nonanarchist2145 Friday, Nov. 21, 2003 at 6:53 PM
Abortion is murder for the sake of lifestyle Barney Friday, Nov. 21, 2003 at 10:33 PM

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