Raising the Abortion Issue

Today is National Abortion Provider's Day. It marks the anniversary of Dr. David Gunn's murder. Dr. Gunn was the first doctor killed by anti-abortion extremists, but his death has been followed by the deaths of six others. The attempted murders, bombings and threats have been too numerous to number. Today, however, it is not enough to mark the graves of those who have fallen defending a woman's right to choose. Because we are in the middle of a presidential race we have the opportunity to make abortion safe and accessible again, or face the consequences of losing the right to reproductive freedom 28 years after Roe v. Wade.

Abortion is not a pretty issue. Candidates shy away from it, voters often don't have a definitive stance on it and the Supreme Court in recent years has been waffling on it. The debate is dominated by extremists and the early momentum against extremist attacks has petered out in the last decade. Since 1977 there have been almost 2,400 reported incidents of violence against abortion providers.

Despite the extreme importance of this issue to men and women across the nation, little has been said about it in the presidential debates. But the next President of the United States will have the fate of legal abortion in his hands. With the expected appointment of 3 justices during the next president's tenure in office, the delicate 5-4 balance in favor of abortion rights could shift dramatically. And while women today are more informed about birth control and will soon have access to RU-486, abortion is still one of the most commonly performed surgical procedures in the country.


The recent debates about so-called "partial-birth" abortions symbolize the loose-cannon and irresponsible rhetoric which have been used by anti-abortionists. These late-term abortions, rarely performed and then often only to save a woman's life or prevent severe health risks, have become the picture of an abortion procedure in many American's minds thanks to vivid, if not technically accurate, descriptions of the procedure. Such gross-out tactics do not help to inform a debate upon which women's lives, livelihoods and freedoms depend. The avoidance-shuffle that candidates have been performing around the issue has allowed anti-abortionists to slowly chip away at women's reproductive freedoms unnoticed by the mainstream public.

The disproportionate clout that these anti-abortionist groups have over candidates is symptomatic of another important issue--campaign finance reform. But what is more essential for today's abortion debate than the banning of soft-money is the clarification of the issue by candidates and representatives.

The fact that Democrats and Republicans have yet to debate face-to-face means that candidates have been able to choose which issues to address. Gore must resist the urge to ignore the abortion issue in the coming months. He should more clearly highlight the ways in which insidious and downright evil practices by anti-abortion extremists--such as killing providers and attacks on family members and clinics--have blocked women's right to abortion in practice if not in theory. Other less violent by equally damaging measures, such as arbitrary parental consent laws, must also be struck down. Gore must vocalize the measures he would take in order to stop these infringements.

Second, the stakes are high in this election. Many voters, swayed by Bush's compassionate conservatism and McCain's anti-establishment identity, may convince themselves that because neither candidate says he will impose an anti-abortion litmus test, it is not more than likely that anti-abortion justices will be appointed to the Supreme Court. Many voters just don't realize just how slim the majority defending their right to choose is at the present time.

Students must recognize that this is an issue of primary concern to them as well. America's teen pregnancy rate is one of the highest among developed nations. In fact, because students today have grown up without knowing what a pre-Roe world looked like, many take for granted that abortion is an option available to them. However, if students don't act soon, they may find themselves back in that world in a few years.

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