Clinton St. Quarterly, Vol. 3 No. 2 Summer 1981

WITH THE MORAL MAJORITY ON THE RISE, THE WHOLE IDEA IS UNDER RECONSIDERATION ABORTION IN THE HALLS OF CONGRESS By Carol Sherman and Roger Margolis NE OF THE liabilities of a democratic govern- ment is the potential majority running over the rights of the individual. But more often, it is the apathy of the majority that allows a fervent, well-organized minority to impose its will. This is particularly true in matters of morality. Prohibition, for example, was made part of the Constitution in 1919 when a zealous minority, hell-bent on legislating sobriety for the entire country, succeeded in prohibiting the production, sale, use or possession of drinking alcohol. The pipe-dream of a politically aggressive minority, it re mained in effect for 13 years before it was repealed. If there’s a lesson here, it is that underestimating the power of a determined moral minority can be a grave mistake. It’s a lesson we may learn again in the ’80s. Because so many critical issues have already emerged, there is a danger that the most significant political battle of the decade—the right to abortion—will be lose before it is recognized. If it is lost, over half of this country’s population will find itself being denied the basic right to privacy, the right to control their own bodies, the right, in fact, to control the direction of their lives. The issue is one of reproductive choice, a right presently guaranteed all women by the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. This right is now under full- scale attack by a coalition of religious zealots and powerful right-wing groups who are waging a highly organized, heavily financed campaign to pass anti-abortion legislation. The focus of this campaign is the passage of the Human Life Statute (HLS) which has been sponsored in identical form by Rep. Henry Hyde and Sen. Jesse Helms and has received closed-door hearings in Washington, D.C. since April of this year. The bills would grant legal personhood and full constitutional rights to the fertilized egg. “For the purpose of enforcing the obligation of the States under the 14th Amendment not to deprive persons of life without due process of law,” it states, “human life shall be deemed to exist from conception.” Should these bills pass, (and they need only a simple majority in Congress to do so), a woman’s right to control of her body would be subservient to the rights of the fertilized egg. Any woman opting to terminate an unwanted pregnancy for any reason whatsoever could be charged with murder. In addition, several forms of contraception would be outlawed. A slew of complicated legal problems would arise out of the fact that, under the new law, two legal persons would exist in the same body; any medical treatment needed by the woman, but posing a risk to the fetus, could conceivably be withheld. The Human Life Statute is no halfway measure. Its intent is not to diminish the number of abortions by redefining the boundaries of a woman’s choice in the matter, but to banish the practice of abortion by denying her any choice whatsoever. Even in cases of rape, incest, or gross fetal abnormality, women could be forced, under the Human Life Statute, to give birth. And because, when imperfect contraceptive methods fail, women are the ones our culture holds but determined minority took up a moral crusade to outlaw abortion and by 1869, the Church had retreated from its earlier position and adopted the position that abortion was equivalent to murder. A number of factors accounted for primarily responsible for the care and rearing of children, the denial of reproductive choice is tantamount to honey. the changing attitudes. The nation was industrializing rapidly and there was a big push for population ■Uorce contraception or abortion. Coincident with the burgeoning of the women’s movement, the issue of reproductive freedom re-emerged. In the six years between 1967 and 1973, a variety of abortion reform and repeal acts were passed in over 20 states. The battle was also joined in the courts. In 1973, in the case of Roe v. Wade, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Texas statute which outlawed abortion. The Court held that a constitutional right to privacy prevented states from prohibiting abortion, at least during the first 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. The concept of personal liberty was clearly broad enough, the court reasoned, to encompass a woman’s decision to terminate her pregnancy. The ruling was clear, concise and definite; fertility control was a constitutional right of women which the state could not deny. Legislatures Bombarded by Antis Not everyone was happy with this decision. Political and religious conservatives began to muster forces to stop legal abortion. In every Congress since the 1973 decision, scores of proposed constitutional amendments have been introduced to abolish abortion permanently. This year to date, 17 constitutional amendments to criminalize abortion by bestowing “personhood” status upon the fertilized egg have been introduced by over 90 members of Congress. As proponents of the Equal Rights Amendment know, the constitutional amendment process is a slow and uncertain vehicle for changing the law. As a result, the anti-abortion forces enslavement. In the 1980s, when we should be focusing on the battle to develop safe, reliable forms of contraception, affordable childcare, health care, education and housing, instead, we are forced to mobilize and fight to protect a right the Supreme Court guaranteed in 1973 when it legalized abortion. A Short History of Abortion Law in America r HE ANTI-CHOICE forces have not just emerged with the New Right. They first showed signi- nificant political strength in the mid- 1800s. Up until that time, abortions were lawful and acceptable even to the Catholic Church, provided they were performed prior to “quickening,” the first discernable movement of the fetus. But attitudes toward abortion began to change. A small growth. Also, surgery of any kind was a dangerous procedure (not only were medical techniques unrefined, but there were no antibiotics or anesthetics). Abortion often resulted in the death of the woman. But the real fervor behind the anti-abortion movement came from the re- emerging puritanical attitudes regarding women and sexuality. The notion of sex for purposes other than reproduction was considered evil, and pregnancy was seen as punishment for enjoying sex. The fear of pregnancy, it was hoped, would reinforce these attitudes, which in turn, would elevate the moral tone of American life. So, with the Church as their ally, these forerunners of the Moral Majority became sufficiently powerful to secure the passage of laws in several states to restrict or altogether prohibit abortion. They also succeeded in passing an outrageous series of state laws which actually forbade the mailing of any literature that addressed the issues of "This year, 17 constitutional amendments to criminalize abortion by bestowing 'personhood' status upon the fertilized egg have been introduced by over ninety members of Congress." are lobbying Congress to pass the Human Life Statute. This circumvents the need for two-thirds of the states to ratify anything by simply changing the meaning of the Fourteenth Amendment. Assuming such a statute passes through the Congress, its validity would still be subject to Supreme Court approval. While a Constitutional Amendment is their ultimate goal, in the meantime the anti-choice organizations are doing everything in their power to make abortions as difficult as possible for women to obtain. They are bombarding state and national legislatures with literally hundreds of variations of anti-abortion bills. Their passage in 1976 of the Hyde Amendment (which held that individual states may deny public funding for elective abortions among the poor) resulted in the elimination of 99% of Medicaid abortions nationwide. States like Utah, Massachusetts and Minnesota have enacted parental notification statutes which make it tougher than ever for unmarried minors to obtain abortions, and Virginia’s anti-choice governor, John Dalton, recently vetoed a bill that would have provided funding for abortion in cases of rape, incest or gross fetal abnormality. In addition to these legislative acti14 Clinton St. Quarterly Graphic: Sharon Niemczyk