For Janet, resting in a local Planned Parenthood clinic while the anesthesia wears off, the decision to end her pregnancy a few weeks ago brought sadness and relief. Janet, who is in her early 20s and asked that her full name not be used, has one child already; another baby would mean giving up on college, her job and her goal of becoming a police officer. “I was against abortion,” she said quietly. “My first instinct was to keep the baby, but after a few weeks I realized how hard it would be for the baby, my [other] child and for me.”
That seems to be how most Americans regard abortion, as a reluctant choice, a necessary option, a private matter. Polls indicate that voters don’t think about abortion nearly as much as activists want them to. Unfortunately, Wednesday’s 30th anniversary of the Supreme Court’s ruling protecting a woman’s choice to end a pregnancy could be the end of relative peace on the issue.
On the campaign trail, George W. Bush tepidly called Roe vs. Wade “a reach” that “overstepped the constitutional bounds.” In office, he has pushed through orders and rules raising the legal status of a fetus, blocking abortions for women soldiers at military hospitals even if they pay and insisting that all of his federal appointees have anti-abortion bona fides.
With a tiny Democratic majority in the Senate, what Bush could accomplish was limited. Now, with Republicans controlling both houses, anti-abortion lawmakers are readying a multi-pronged assault on abortion rights. First up will probably be a ban on late-term abortions, a rarely used procedure that is most often performed to preserve the health of the mother. Another bill may bar adults from taking minors across state lines for an abortion to evade parental consent laws, rendering pregnant teenagers virtual captives of their state legislatures. And another could allow hospitals to refuse to perform abortions without jeopardizing the federal funds they receive. The intent is to further shame women who seek abortions, demonize those who perform them and make the procedure even harder to find.
If these bills pass, most women in California who want an abortion will still get help -- state law guarantees abortion rights. But elsewhere the legal and political climate will grow more hostile. Already, according to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, no one performs abortions in 87% of U.S. counties. For many women, Roe vs. Wade might as well not exist.
These battle preparations in Congress come as the national abortion rate is at its lowest level since 1974, partly because anti-abortion activists have made it harder for many women who need one. But experts say the drop also means that teenagers are getting pregnant less and couples are using contraception more vigilantly. That points to how most Americans want lawmakers to help -- by making family planning education and services available to young people. Mainstream Americans did not invite, and are poorly served by, a new round of polarizing attacks on abortion.