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Anti-Abortion Forces Try to Overturn Roe vs. Wade

Between the Lines Q&A
A weekly column featuring progressive viewpoints
on national and international issues
under-reported in mainstream media
for release March 14, 2006

South Dakota Anti-Abortion Forces Working to Overturn Roe vs. Wade

Interview with Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, conducted by Melinda Tuhus

Listen in RealAudio:

On Feb. 24, the South Dakota legislature passed a bill that bans abortion in all cases except to save the life of the mother. Republican Gov. Mike Rounds has said he'll probably sign it. The law is a direct challenge not just to the Roe v. Wade, U.S. Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in 1973, but to legal abortion itself. And that's the point. Lawmakers are counting on the measure, if the governor signs it, ending up at the Supreme Court. There, they are hopeful of overturning Roe, since anti-abortion justice Samuel Alito replaced Sandra Day O'Connor, whose swing vote usually sided with abortion protections.

The right to abortion has been narrowed significantly over the 33 years since Roe v. Wade was decided. Restrictions have been imposed, including parental and spousal notification and prohibition of "late" term abortions. The so-called "partial birth abortion" procedure is currently being reviewed by the Supreme Court, despite rulings from three separate appeals courts that banning the procedure is unconstitutional.

Between The Lines' Melinda Tuhus spoke with Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, about this latest attack on abortion rights, what her organization is doing about it, and why the issue goes beyond abortion to all women's reproductive rights.

NANCY KEENAN: The passage of this ban is an outrageous attack on women’s health and represents a monumental step backward for personal privacy. This would take us back to pre-Roe v. Wade, it could send doctors to prisons for doing what is in the best medical interest of their patients. And it flies in the face of our freedom as women in this country.

BETWEEN THE LINES: Legalized abortion has fueled the right-wing for more than 30 years. And the right has succeeded in chipping away at the law so much that at this point in many states there may be just one abortion provider, which obviously makes a mockery of the right to choose. I’ve heard some feminists say that if Roe v. Wade were overturned, not only would it energize a whole generation or more of Americans who have taken this right for granted, but it could spur legislation that might provide more protection for women than having to depend on the good will of five Supreme Court justices.

NANCY KEENAN: You also look at the landscape and what’s happening right now in the country. If Roe were overturned, it would go back to the states, that’s correct. But we have 19 states right now that already have a ban on the books. So in 19 states in this country you wouldn’t even have a discussion; they have the ban, it’s on the books, it’s going to go into effect. The rest of the states we have anti-choice governors, anti-choice legislatures. So what’s the chance of us, in an anti-choice state, of being successful in retaining Roe’s protections? That’s going to be an uphill battle. Bottom line here -- elections matter. Elections matter! And if when we elect these politicians that are anti-choice -- because we don’t ever think they will take this freedom and this right to privacy away, my message across this country is, elections matter.

BETWEEN THE LINES: You’ve painted with a pretty broad brush. There are certainly some states where abortion is legally protected and quite readily available.

NANCY KEENAN: The difference -- like California and New York, and some of these states that are more progressive -- yeah, you might be able to access abortion care in those states. But what does it mean for a woman in rural America who would have to travel somewhere? But what could happen, let’s just say in the next two years; the U.S. Congress and signed by an anti-choice president, could pass an all-out ban. So, whether you’re in California or New York or Connecticut, where you think you’re protected and safe and will be able to continue to access abortion care, that may not be the case.

BETWEEN THE LINES: So, Nancy Keenan, how is NARAL focusing its opposition to these attacks?

NANCY KEENAN: NARAL's main focus is elections. We are the political arm of the pro-choice movement. As we’re looking at elections in ’06 and elections in ’08, we’re going to do everything possible to start electing more pro-choice candidates. Our affiliates across this country -- and there are 27 of them -- they are looking at legislative seats and governors’ races and attorney generals’ races. People don’t always vote "choice" as their top issue -- they vote security, they vote their health care, they vote economics, pocket book issues, so I think this is a wake-up call that there is more at risk when we vote for candidates who don’t share our values of freedom and privacy and making a decision within our family and our doctor and our God, that those folks have to be called out on it and they shouldn’t be elected.

BETWEEN THE LINES: I live in Connecticut and last year I did a series on the 40th anniversary of the Griswold v. Connecticut Supreme Court decision that legalized birth control for married women in Connecticut, based on the right to privacy, and therefore paving the way eight years later for Roe v Wade decision. What I learned in doing lots of interviews is that if you scratch the surface of someone who’s against abortion, you usually find someone who’s also opposed to birth control. How does that figure into your strategy for fighting to protect women’s reproductive rights?

NANCY KEENAN: You are exactly on the mark; this no longer is about abortion care. The hypocrisy of these people that they also want to deny women their birth control. They deny trying to advance an agenda that has insurance pay for birth control -- pays for Viagra, doesn’t pay for birth control. They’re advancing abstinence-only education -- we all believe young people should be abstinent, but you also have to give them medically accurate sex education. We’ve also seen the politics around the FDA and the morning-after pill, and now we’re seeing anti-choice legislators pass pharmacy-refusal bills, denying women their prescription drug because they have an issue with it. If we could prevent unintended pregnancies in this country, if we would do that prevention work, we could reduce the need for abortion in this country. This group is no longer just about abortion care -- it’s about them wanting to control all of a woman’s reproductive health, and having politicians impose that on us.

Contact NARAL at (202) 973-3000 or visit their website at


Melinda Tuhus is a producer of Between The Lines, which can be heard on more than 40 radio stations and in RealAudio and MP3 on our website at This interview excerpt was featured on the award-winning, syndicated weekly radio newsmagazine, Between The Lines for the week ending March 10, 2006. This Between The Lines Q&A was compiled by Melinda Tuhus and Anna Manzo.

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