The Choice Is Ours

On Sunday, April 25, seven national groups are producing what organizers hope will be a massive show of support for reproductive freedom. In Washington, D.C., the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), Black Women's Health Imperative, the Feminist Majority Foundation, the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL), the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the National Organization for Women (NOW), and Planned Parenthood hope to mass hundreds of thousands of pro-choice activists and concerned citizens.

And across the rest of the country, most of the rest of us—especially men—will yawn. Why?

Increasingly, pro-choice activism is on the defensive in the U.S. Part of the problem is demographic. The generation of women who won reproductive freedoms in the 1960s and 1970s are now grandmothers, and many of their daughters and granddaughters have never really seriously considered a world in which abortion wasn't available. Nor have their husbands, boyfriends, or lovers.

The steady drip, drip, drip of anti­abortion politics has taken a toll. Across the country, the number of women seeking abortions has steadily declined in recent years. That's due to a combination of demographic changes, more widely available birth control, the advent of "morning after" pills, the fact that abortion services in many areas are less widely available, and the cultural shaming of abortion through years of prominent political and media conservatism.

To the extent that the declining trend is a result of voluntary decisions, it's a good thing. Abortion is never a decision any woman or couple takes lightly, and most view it not as a frivolous exercise but the tragic best of a bad set of choices. If the choices are improving, bravo.

But the option to end a pregnancy after conception still needs to be there—no matter how widely available birth control is, no matter how early modern tech­nology enables a fetus to be "viable."

Another factor inspiring complacency is that we've been hearing for 25 years that Roe v. Wade is in danger of being rolled back or repealed, and it's never happened. There's a certain girl- that-cried-wolf response. Why should we care now?

Five words will suffice: It's none of their business.

Women, and men, should be alarmed when the state starts deciding what we can and can't do with our bodies. More and more, that's the trend. A generation of conservative federal judges is in place. With Republican majorities in both houses of Congress likely to remain in place, a second term for President Bush would almost certainly see at least one, perhaps up to three, new U.S. Supreme Court nominees. Probably only one more Clarence Thomas type in the mix would be enough to end Roe v. Wade, and with it, a woman's remaining ability to seek clean, private, safe abortion services in the U.S.

Already this year, Congress has passed a bill defining a fetus as a human being. To her credit, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., fought it; in the House, her probable fall opponent, Republican Rep. George Nethercutt, R-Spokane, was a major co-sponsor. The implication, if applied consistently, would be that every woman, every male lover, and every doctor ever involved in an abortion decision could be considered a murderer. That's no casual matter.

Meanwhile, we have a president who wants a constitutional amendment to prevent the law from being applied uniformly to same-sex couples wanting to be married—another version of the same paternalistic impulse that makes conservative politicians want to legislate social mores. Their social mores. And these are the guys— and, yes, they're almost all guys—who used to rail about activist judges and social engineering.

In D.C., the March for Women's Lives is focused on reproductive rights that have steadily been lost during the past quarter century, especially in rural areas and among the poor and uninsured. But a great deal more rights are still there to be preserved. The social engineering desired by antichoice activists and their political colleagues is far broader than what has come before. It is, in essence, a vision of theocracy, where permissible social conduct is defined by a state religion—their religion—and all who stray are deviants who will be punished accordingly.

Do we want another four years of a president who claims he talks to God—and whose God always seems to tell him exactly what he wants to hear? That should scare anyone, woman or man. Our lives, and our bodies, are none of their business.

Information on the March for Women's Lives, and an online petition of support, is available at www.marchforwomen.

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