Features

Life on trial

Abortion | Congress goes to court, while NARAL goes to camp

Issue: "Tsunami," Jan. 15, 2005

Groups like the National Abortion Rights Action League (NARAL) have for years labeled crisis pregnancy centers and abstinence-only education as "fear-based" weapons of religious extremists. Now, with conservatives in control of judicial appointments, abortion activists are using their own fear tactics to rally foot soldiers in light of U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice William Rehnquist's cancer and a likely high-court vacancy.

NARAL is motivating its political base of support with a campy, animated feature called "Creatures from the Far Right: Supreme Court Under Attack!" Set to echoing audio of jungle birds and Jurassic stomping, the cartoon opens with a series of Godzilla-esque titles unfurling diagonally across the screen: "At the dawn of a dark new era, with a Supreme Court retirement looming . . . a prehistoric brotherhood arises in a land from the Far, Far Right . . . to stamp out liberty and freedom for all."

A woman screams! Then Justice Antonin Scalia, pro-life Senators Bill Frist, Rick Santorum, and President Bush appear as tail-thrashing, laser-eyed mega-lizards that "unleash their devastating powers," terrorizing "moderate" citizens by . . . confirming a conservative high court justice.

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The Center for Reproductive Rights (CRR), meanwhile, has taken a serious approach. In October, it released a report called "What If Roe Fell? The State-by-State Consequences of Overturning Roe v. Wade." The study concluded that the legal building blocks for "re-criminalizing abortion" are already in place in many states. CRR's fear-factoring is "smart politics," said Americans United for Life's Daniel McConchie, who added that publicity for such advocacy studies may spur pro-abortion activism among citizens who, while personally against abortion, don't want to make it illegal for others.

•The federal judiciary dealt a triple blow to the protection of unborn babies last year when judges in three jurisdictions struck down the congressional ban on partial-birth abortion. But the ban is not dead yet. The American Center for Law and Justice (ACLJ) last week filed a friend-of-the-court brief for a group asking the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals to scrap the opinion of Phyllis Hamilton, the California judge who overturned the partial-birth law because it lacks a health exception.

The ACLJ is representing 31 members of the U.S. House-all Republicans, though 63 Democrats voted for the ban in 2003. The group's brief argues that the government has a "vital and compelling interest" in preventing abortion from spreading into infanticide, and that "the human being who is partially outside the mother's body is a person entitled to the equal protection of the law" under the Fifth and 14th Amendments.

"The ban is needed to put an end to one of the most barbaric and medically useless procedures that targets the most vulnerable among us-the partially born child," said ACLJ chief counsel Jay Sekulow. While legal observers do not expect pro-lifers to prevail in the liberal 9th Circuit, pro-life activists are hoping the Supreme Court will ultimately accept the case for review.

•Alaska last year joined seven other states required by law to publish "informed consent" abortion information on the internet. But the state missed its Oct. 24 deadline to post mandatory data and, according to an Anchorage Daily News report, the physicians' review panel required to approve the web content under the new law will not meet for the first time until later this month. The new law requires Alaska public-health officials to publish information on fetal development (including photographs), abortion types and risks, adoption, and prenatal care. But pro-abortion politicians in Alaska are weighing in with protests. State representative Beth Kerttula stated in a hearing that no other medical procedure-not even brain surgery-is singled out in state law with this special requirement for informing patients. That may be, said Anchorage-based pro-life activist Ann Curro, because brain surgeons typically inform patients of surgical risks on their own.

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