Every important cause has its heroes, and the struggle for women's reproductive freedom has produced more than its share. Today, the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade, is a moment to consider the many thousands of men and women both here and abroad -- doctors, nurses, judges, politicians and health and civil rights activists -- who have worked to make that freedom a reality, often at significant personal or professional risk.
Among them is an unlikely and largely forgotten local hero named George Michaels, who died in 1992. As a Democratic member of the New York State Assembly in 1970, Mr. Michaels cast the deciding vote to repeal the state's criminal sanctions against abortion, thereby dooming his chance of re-election from his largely rural, conservative and heavily Catholic upstate district, and helping to set the stage for the Supreme Court's landmark decision three years later making abortion legal nationwide.
In a new memoir, Aryeh Neier, the civil liberties and human rights activist, recalls watching crestfallen from the Statehouse gallery in 1970, believing abortion reform had been defeated, when Mr. Michaels rose in a hushed Assembly chamber to announce tearfully that he was switching his vote. "I realize, Mr. speaker," he declared, "that I am terminating my political career, but I cannot in good conscience sit here and allow my vote to be the one that defeats this bill."
The bill, which was later approved by the Republican-led State Senate and signed into law by New York's Republican governor, Nelson Rockefeller, was a stunning advance for women's rights. ...
Two years later only a gubernatorial veto stopped the State Legislature from repealing New York's abortion reform, underscoring why the Supreme Court was right 30 years ago not to leave to the whims of state lawmakers the recognition of a women's basic right to make her own childbearing decisions. With abortion rights under severe attack from a hostile Republican White House and Congress, the nation could use many more like George Michaels.
Dallas Morning News
Abused as a child and raped as a teen, she dropped out of school as a ninth-grader and floated from job to job. She had male and female lovers and knew drugs and alcohol too well. She had two children being raised by others. At 21, single and pregnant again, she wanted a safe termination of the pregnancy. But "Jane Roe" lived in Dallas County, and it was 1970. Texas law made abortion a crime.
That was until 30 years ago today, when the Supreme Court decided that statutes like Texas' unconstitutionally restricted women's choices.
Whether you agree with what this young woman wanted at the time is not the issue. In fact, Norma McCorvey, the real Jane Roe, a few decades later questioned her own thinking at the time. But her lawsuit was about an issue much bigger than the particulars of this case. It was about who should make the decision, and the court ruled that women should be free to make such decisions for themselves, within reason, without undue state intervention and with respect for privacy.
The protection of personal liberties and the freedom to make choices form the very foundation of America. Faiths and individuals differ on the question of when life begins. These differences, instead of being protected by conservatives, are now threatened by many of those same conservatives. ...
However, conservatives who preach judicial restraint should embrace such restraint when considering abortion law. The 1973 ruling was designed to make abortion safe, legal and rare, and that is a goal most Americans embrace.
Norma McCorvey had the baby and gave her up for adoption. She is now happy that her choices were constrained. But the role of government is not to supplant a good spiritual adviser in helping with decision making. And President Bush, who will be making some Supreme Court appointments as aging justices retire, must understand that he is head of state, not head of a church.
An entire generation of women has grown up in the 30 years since Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court decision legalizing abortion. In focus groups conducted by the abortion rights group NARAL Pro Choice America, most women under age 35 did not understand the meaning of a coat hanger as a symbol of unsafe abortions. This is good news: Most young people cannot recall the days when desperate women were butchered or killed by crude abortion attempts. But such innocence is also a weapon for those who would implacably chip away at those rights.
It is sobering to list all the ways in which abortion rights -- and the attendant freedoms so many women under 35 also take for granted -- are threatened today. Antiabortion majorities control both branches of Congress, and the Supreme Court's continued support for Roe v. Wade hangs by a one-vote thread. President Bush has nominated dozens of lower-court justices who oppose Roe and see the courts as a tool for their activism.
Antiabortion fanatics are driving doctors who perform abortions out of the business through harassment, intimidation, even murder. ...
Thirty years after Roe, reducing the number of unwanted pregnancies is still the best way to avoid abortion. But the right to avoid coat hangers and jail is the legacy those who fought for reproductive rights in decades past have given their daughters.
Today marks the 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court's decision that extended the constitutionally guaranteed right to privacy to women's right to choose to end a pregnancy. Efforts began almost immediately thereafter to undercut that landmark ruling, known as Roe v. Wade. Three decades down the road, women's reproductive freedom still is under attack, and the right to safe and legal abortion is as vulnerable today as it has ever been. ...
The religious right has worked tirelessly to roll back reproductive freedoms for women. However, no single ideology maintains a lock on moral certainty. Other religious groups, like the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice, make as strong a case for abortion rights, pointing out, for example, that God grants women free will and the moral responsibility to make decisions about the course of their own lives.
Some pro-choice and pro-life advocates will change their mind on the questions of when life begins and whether a woman's right to control her body trumps the rights of her unborn child. The Chronicle favors abortion rights, and pro-life activists no doubt will continue working to thwart those rights.
Nonetheless, reasonable people ought to agree that every child should be a wanted child and that the means of achieving that goal lie in part with unrestricted access to birth control, comprehensive family planning information and high-quality reproductive medical care. That's a sensible place to look for common ground.
On the Mall today in Washington, as on other January 22's for the last 30 years, ardent advocates will spit words at each other over the right to abortion in the United States.
It's the "March for Life" versus the "Rally for Choice" in the annual battle of absolutes on the anniversary of Roe v. Wade. That 1973 landmark Supreme Court case rejected a Texas ban on abortion as a violation of a woman's constitutional right to privacy.
At home, most Americans will sigh as they watch the nightly news, weary of the competing incendiary symbols, the twisted coat hangers and the fetal remains. They'll rightly regard the intractable interest groups with suspicion for simplifying a moral morass. ...
Could America's abortion law use some refinement? Maybe, but as long as interest groups and politicians lead the debate, America gets nowhere on figuring out how to preserve women's choice and make abortion the path least chosen.
As America enters its fourth decade of legalized abortion, the U.S. Senate is girding for another go-round on the late-term pregnancy-ending procedure that opponents call partial-birth abortion. Although the outcome, regrettably, is likely to be different this time, courtesy of the newly enshrined GOP trifecta in the White House and Congress, the debate is still much ado about very little.
The meaningful developments on the abortion front, a saga sadly without end in this country, have not taken place in the Capitol or Oval Office and, most assuredly, they do not involve the exceedingly rare procedure technically known as dilation and extraction, which, granted, makes even the most fervent abortion proponents queasy.
What everyone with a stake in this debate should take satisfaction in -- as some celebrate and others mourn today's 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade -- is the abortion rate's continued slide. ...
So while Congress debates anew an abortion procedure hardly ever used -- and overwhelmingly on fetuses that are tragically deformed -- medical researchers persevere at perfecting new and less onerous ways to end unintended pregnancies or, better yet, prevent them from occurring. That's something the polar-opposite groups in the abortion debate, and everyone trapped in between, should applaud on this momentous day.
(Compiled by United Press International)