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BTL: Women's Right to Choose Under Severe Attack

From the radio newsmagazine
Between The Lines

Between the Lines Q&A A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints on national and international issues under-reported in mainstream media for release Dec. 2, 2002


A Woman's Right to Choose Under Severe Attack as GOP Consolidates Control of U.S. Government

Interview with Terry O'Neill, membership vice president of National Organization for Women conducted by Denise Manzari

Listen in RealAudio:

Since George W. Bush has been in office, his attacks against women's reproductive freedoms have been relentless. His first official act was to cut the $34 million in funding for the United Nations' Population Fund, which would have assisted poor women in preventing unintended pregnancies and controlled the spread of sexually transmitted diseases and HIV-AIDS.

Bush proclaimed Jan. 20, 2002, "National Sanctity of Human Life Day," likening the terrorism of Sept. 11 to abortion.

He now wants to appoint right-wing religious activist Dr. David Hager, who is working to overturn the FDA's approval of mifepristone, more commonly known as RU-486, or the "abortion pill," to the FDA's influential Reproductive Health Drugs Advisory Committee.

In October of this year, the Bush administration issued regulations making fetuses, but not their pregnant mothers, eligible for health care coverage under the State Children's Health Insurance Program, or CHIP.

The fate of Roe vs. Wade, the historic 1973 ruling which legalized abortion nationwide, now rests in the hands of a conservative Supreme Court. With the GOP takeover of the U.S. Senate, Republicans now have the power to confirm Bush administration nominees, bolstering the ranks of anti-choice justices.

Terry O'Neill is the membership vice president of NOW, the National Organization for Women, based in Washington, D.C. She spoke with Between The Lines' Denise Manzari about how Republican control of all three branches of government could quietly, but relentlessly, reverse nearly 30 years of progress in women's rights -- especially reproductive freedoms.

Terry O'Neill: Trent Lott, now in charge of the Senate, has announced gleefully that he will be working very hard to ram through, first of all, the vaginal abortion ban. I can tell you that what this law does -- and by the way, this is virtually identical to the state law that was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court -- this is a law that Trent Lott loves and he wants to enact a federal version of a law that bans virtually all of the safest and most common vaginal abortion procedures. They will tell you that this is about late term abortion; that's false. It's fascinating to see how they can claim in the media and actually are believed by mainstream news organizations that this applies to late term (abortions.) Yet, in their court papers where they're not allowed to lie, they admit --in fact, they declare -- that from the moment of conception, a fertilized egg is a baby and that if an abortion involves the vagina, it involves the birth canal and that mak! es it all "partial birth." And so, from the moment of conception on, these procedures in their view, can be criminalized.

George W. Bush will continue his assault on women's contraception rights as well as women's right to obtain safe, legal abortion.

Between The Lines: The military is being geared up by George Bush -- inspections or no inspections, regardless of the result -- to invade Iraq. That will no doubt mean that women in the military will be serving abroad once again. But President Bush has curtailed women in the military's reproductive and contraceptive freedoms if they happen to be abroad. Can you talk about that for a moment?

Terry O'Neill: Women who are putting their lives on the line to serve their country, if they happen to be overseas and they are military women or if they are the wives or daughters of military men who are living overseas, they are forbidden to go to an Army medical facility to obtain an abortion even if they can pay for it themselves. Which means that if a woman needs an abortion and she is in the military or she is a military dependent living overseas, she would have to go to a local facility to obtain the abortion. Now just picture if she's in Saudi Arabia, where abortion is flat out illegal. Her options are extremely limited and quite scary.

Between The Lines: What is NOW prepared to do? What should people listening to this program do to prevent this assault on reproductive rights?

Terry O'Neill: The right-wing since the early 1980s has had a long term goal of a full takeover of our otherwise independent federal judiciary. They want ideologues on the court. Ronald Reagan and Bush the first pursued that goal of putting extremist ideologues on the court who would be opposed, not only to women's rights, but to civil rights, to affirmative action and to civil liberties. They have had remarkable success. What the Republican leadership did during the Clinton administration was shut down the judicial appointment process, to severely limit the Democratic president's ability to make appointments to the courts. Remember, Clinton was in fact a moderate Democrat who, to the degree he got people onto the court they were moderates.

George W. Bush has been if anything, more aggressive than his father in getting right-wing ideologues onto the federal courts. And I'm sorry to say that he has had enormous success. We have managed to stop some of it when the Democrats were in control of the Senate. But it is looking quite bleak. We are very concerned about a full-scale extremist, right-wing takeover of the United States courts.

Remember that -- just a little civics lesson -- the whole point of checks and balances is part of a fundamental aspect of democracy. You need to have an independent judiciary. A bunch of judges who will, in fact, rule on the law without regard to their own ideological biases. And what we have is a president who is determined to pack the courts with men and women who cannot and will not put their own biases aside, who will in fact rule on the basis of their ideology and not on the basis of the rule of law.

So, we have been working very hard to stop that part of the right-wing juggernaut. We are organizing, organizing, organizing. We are stepping up our efforts in local communities, we are doing absolutely everything that we can, the best way that we (know how,) which is local chapter/NOW chapter activism. We know that we're going to have, or we expect we're going to have a huge fight over the Supreme Court at some point in the future and we intend to be ready for it with our chapter organizing.

For more information, contact NOW at (202) 628-8669 or visit their Web site at


Denise Manzari is a producer with Between The Lines. This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, nationally syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines (, for the week ending Dec. 6, 2002

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