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Another Republican revolution, against women’s right to choose

Friday, March 4, 2011

Most of the media attention given in recent weeks to the effects of increased Republican margins in statehouses following the November elections has centered on legislation aimed at curtailing or eliminating collective bargaining for state employees. Those efforts have brought out tens of thousands of protesters, most notably in Madison, Wisc., and in Columbus.

But there’s been an equally dramatic yet less visible campaign being waged by new Republican majorities, a campaign to severely restrict the right of a woman to choose an abortion.

In Ohio, legislation that clearly runs counter to the Supreme Court of the United States’ Roe v. Wade ruling has been introduced. It’s called the “heartbeat bill” because it would outlaw an abortion any time after a fetal heartbeat can be detected. That can be done in the early weeks of a pregnancy, months sooner than a fetus would be viable outside the womb, which is the standard for regulating access to an abortion that was established by Roe.

In South Dakota, Gov. Dennis Dugaard says he intends to sign a bill working its way through the Legislature that would require a woman seeking an abortion to wait 72 hours before having the procedure, during which she would be required to undergo counseling at one of several state-approved “pregnancy help centers,” all of which seek to persuade women not to have abortions.

The South Dakota Legislature has a history of anti-abortion activism. It passed legislation in 2006 and 2008 to ban virtually all abortions in the state, only to have voters reject those laws through statewide referendum.

These legislative actions call into question the “conservative” credentials of their sponsors. It is hardly politically conservative to pass laws that clearly run counter to the law established by the nation’s high court. And it is certainly not fiscally conservative to pass laws that the Legislature knows are going to be challenged, almost certainly successfully, and which the state will be required to spend millions of dollars to defend.

The Washington front

And in Congress, anti-abortion fervor has gained such political clout that House Republicans voted to ban federal funding to the nation’s largest provider of contraceptive services, Planned Parenthood, and to vacate all federal funding of Title X, the nation’s contraception program for the poor.

There is no logic to those who oppose abortion making it more difficult to obtain contraception. What do these folks think happens when couples don’t use contraception, for whatever reason. Did they close their eyes during health class, or are they just closing their eyes now to the obvious consequences of their actions?

And by what perverse logic is it conservative for advocates of smaller government to make efforts to constantly expand the government’s ability to tell a woman what she can or cannot do with her body — or to make her jump through hoops as if she were a child before she can do what she feels she has to do.

It is conservative only in its reflection of fundamentalist theocracies in which a religious minority — or even a religious majority — seeks to impose its faith on everyone else.

However strongly anyone may feel that abortion is wrong — that it is sinful — should have no standing in law in the United States of America. Tens of millions of religious and nonreligious people alike in this nation do not share the particular view of abortion held by the most fervent opponents of abortion.

The decision on whether to have an abortion should be made by a woman and her doctor. Whether she chooses to seek counseling from a relative, friend, therapist or clergyman, is her decision. She should not have to meet the expectations of legislators she has never met and who hold religious views that she does not share.

This is the United States, not Iran or Saudi Arabia — or, in the opposite extreme, China, where the government is antipathetic toward religion and encourages abortion as a means of population control.