Cover Story

What women want

For 33 years many American women have believed that what's legal must be OK-only to have their consciences, moments or decades later, tell them differently

Issue: "What women want," Jan. 21, 2006

Hours before Supreme Court nominee Samuel Alito's confirmation hearings began Jan. 9 on Capitol Hill, Myra Myers sought a hearing of her own on the steps of the Supreme Court. She carried her message on a dark blue sign that read: "My abortion hurt me."

Mrs. Myers, now 61, was 28 and married when she learned she was pregnant with her sixth child in January 1973. Just weeks after the Supreme Court handed down its decision in Roe v. Wade, her husband persuaded her to have an abortion and later reassured her, "It was the only thing that could be done."

"I thought that because it was legal it might be OK," Mrs. Myers told WORLD. "And I believed the lie that the child I was carrying was not a baby." Both spouses now say it was the worst decision they ever made.

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Mary Lou Greenburg doesn't want to hear it. Ms. Greenburg joined about a dozen counterprotesters at the court on the same day, protesting Mr. Alito's nomination. She told pro-life demonstrators: "It's not a baby till it comes out-that's what birthdays are all about."

The counterprotesters dubbed the first day of Mr. Alito's confirmation hearings "Bloody Monday." Two women wore white gowns with red stains across their stomachs, but they weren't the first to wave the bloody shirt. At a "Women for Alito" event hosted by Concerned Women for America Jan. 5, a small group of women, one wearing a shirt smeared with fake blood, brandished a coat hanger and chanted: "Bush and Alito will outlaw abortion and women will die! Bush and Alito will outlaw abortion and women will die!"

CWA chief counsel Jan LaRue, describing the outburst as "stunning," pointed out that pro-abortion women have opposed every Republican high court nominee since Lewis Powell, President Nixon's 1971 pick. "These folks are really, really desperate."

Desperate-and hunkering down in their foxhole of choice: the Supreme Court. Thirty-three years ago, in a ruling that pivoted on the vote of Justices Powell (ironically) and Blackmun, the court swept away protection for the unborn.

But as the death toll mounted-more than 40 million-so has public and legislative opposition. Today, at least 11 states significantly restrict abortion through parental consent, notification, and regulatory laws, while other states, such as New Hampshire in Ayotte v. Planned Parenthood, are litigating over similar statutes.

Ayotte, a 2005 high court case in which Planned Parenthood is trying to crush New Hampshire's parental notification law, underscores the divide between the feminist-led abortion lobby and mainstream Americans: In a November 2005 Gallup/CNN/USA Today poll, 69 percent of respondents said girls under 18 should have to tell their parents before getting an abortion. Meanwhile, between two-thirds and three-quarters of Americans favor limitations on the procedure, or support banning it altogether (according to 2005 polls by CBS News, CNN/USA Today, and The Polling Company/Woman Trend).

Now comes Samuel Alito, President Bush's second nominee and the first in 13 years to offer abortion foes real hope of an ideological shift on the court. While Chief Justice John Roberts replaced fellow conservative William Rehnquist, Mr. Alito, also a conservative, would replace swing-voting moderate Sandra Day O'Connor. Legal experts on the left and right say an Alito confirmation would likely move the court from a 6-3 majority in favor of Roe to a more tenuous 5-4 pro-Roe split (the Roe court itself voted 7-2).

With popular support in decline, the National Organization for Women (NOW), Planned Parenthood, and others are increasingly shrill. But for conservative women's groups like the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA), the battleground shift is affirming their progress in shaping both public opinion and pro-life office-holders.

Pro-abortion women in Congress motivated SBA founder and board chairwoman Marjorie Dannenfelser. As a student at Duke University in the 1980s, she was a political conservative and a member of the College Republicans. But, she said, "I used to be pro-choice. For a relatively smart human being, I will say my sincere belief was that if I chose to have an abortion it was nobody's business but mine."

That belief got her named co-chair of the school's GOP group, she recalls, irony infusing her soft Southern accent: "I was chosen to be co-chair because I was pro-choice and the other chairman was pro-life. I balanced things out."

Gradually, though, fellow students convinced her that abortion was both anti-liberty and anti-woman. "Some really smart people took a lot of time talking to me about it. At the same time, people with really strong faith were praying for me and I didn't even know that." At that time an Episcopalian, Ms. Dannenfelser said her view of God didn't affect her views on abortion until she converted to Roman Catholicism. "I don't think I would've been able to make such a dramatic change if it weren't for the deepening of my faith."


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