WASHINGTON – Three decades after the Supreme Court ruling that made abortion legal,pro-choice legislators said Wednesday that a woman's right to chose may depend on the outcome of the 2004 presidential election.
At a news conference marking the 31st anniversary of Roe v. Wade,Rep. Louise M. Slaughter,D-N.Y.,told a small group of reporters and activists in the Rayburn House Office Building that President Bush could reverse the decision with one Supreme Court appointment.
“A woman's right to choose clings to a narrow 5-4 majority in the Supreme Court,” said Slaughter,co-chair of the bipartisan Congressional Pro-Choice Caucus. “That's exactly why this election is so important.”
Slaughter's co-chair,Rep. James Greenwood,R-Pa.,said that government should stay out of the debate and allow individuals to decide. He said that much of the conflict stems from religious views and “certain members of Congress take their religion very seriously.”
On the eve of the Right to Life Campaign's “Pilgrimage for Life” rally and march,Greenwood said that the pro-choice side is on the defensive because its members are not the ones introducing legislation.
The 30th annual rally will begin at the Ellipse behind the White House at noon Thursday and end with a march down Constitution Avenue to the Supreme Court.
The National Abortion Federation 2003 State Legislative Report says that more than 600 anti-abortion bills were filed in state legislatures nationwide last year. These bills included abortion restrictions and bills funding crisis pregnancy centers and abortion alternative organizations.
The report also said that 14 new abortion restrictions had been passed by state legislatures and signed into law by the end of 2003. Two states restricted public funding of abortions,for example. Six states passed bills that the pro-choice group said required abortion counselors to provide negative information about abortion without requiring them to provide negative information about pregnancy and childbirth.
Two new laws protecting abortion access took effect in California.
The caucus said it isn't convinced that young women understand the fragility of the right they grew up with. Rep. Jane Harman,D-Calif.,who had her first child in the same year as the Roe decision,recounted her college days in the ‘60s before women could choose freely.
“I know how close we are to losing Roe,” Harman said. “I remember my classmates and the things they sought to do to make their own choices.”
In Tuesday's State of the Union address,Bush proposed doubling federal funding for abstinence programs,so schools can teach “abstinence for young people is the only certain way to avoid sexually transmitted diseases.”
Caucus members questioned whether it is realistic to expect abstinence-only education programs to decrease the transmission of STDs and unwanted pregnancies.
“The last thing we want to do with the young people of this country and around the world is ignore the fact that they will still have sex,” said Rep. Lynn Woolsey,D-Calif.
Rep. Chris Van Hollen ,D-Md.,said he supports Bush's proposal to double the budget of the National Endowment for Democracy. In Tuesday's address,Bush said,“Our aim is a democratic peace – a peace founded upon the dignity and rights of every man and woman.”
Van Hollen said that,while the United States is attempting to remake other countries based on democratic principles,the country itself is passing legislation to limit a woman's privacy and right to choose.
“I think we should have that same standard here at home when it comes to respecting and protecting a woman's right to choose,” he said.