The Abortion Wars

SOME day, when the abortion wars have ended and history has recorded the battles, it is Federal District Judge Patrick Kelly - not President Bush or Attorney General Dick Thornburgh - who will be remembered as a courageous man who braved death threats to protect women's rights to choose an abortion.Last week, it seemed like Little Rock, Ark., 1957, all over again. In that year, white racists prevented black children from integrating Central High School. President Eisenhower used his powers to send in federal troops to assure the children's statutory right to enter the school. By that act, he threw the power of the federal government behind the civil rights goal of desegregation. For weeks, Operation Rescue, an anti-abortion group based in Binghamton, N.Y., has been blockading and harassing patients trying to enter three abortion clinics in Wichita, Kan. Whatever his personal view about abortion - and he appropriately does not state them - Judge Kelly, a Roman Catholic, responded to women's legal claims for protection. He issued a temporary restraining order and, when that didn't stop the harassment, he ordered federal marshals to ensure their safety. In response, the United States Justice Department filed a suit claiming that the federal judge has no jurisdiction over the case. No, Mr. Thornburgh claims, we are not acting on behalf of Operation Rescue. We simply think the state courts can and will protect the rights of our citizens. No, Mr. Bush claims, we are not attempting to restrict abortion. We are simply trying to protect the free speech rights of the activists. This is pure dissembling and rank hypocrisy. This administration has been waging a concerted war against both civil rights and abortion since the day Ronald Reagan took office. Just recently, the Reagan-packed court issued the now infamous "gag rule" which prevents doctors in federally funded clinics from even discussing abortion with patients. In the name of states' rights, the Bush administration is using the US Justice Department to protect anti-abortion activists. In the name of free speech, it has entered the fray on the side of those who harass and blockade. In the name of legal precedent, Thornburgh argues that women seeking abortion do not constitute a specific class and therefore deserve no special protection. (Since when do men receive abortions?) THERE is a fine line between free speech and harassment. The partisans of Operation Rescue have the right to state and write opinion, to demonstrate and scream their protests. What is not protected, according to Judge Kelly, is their right to blockade the entrance to the clinic, harass the patients, or throw themselves under the wheels of entering vehicles. If this administration is so concerned with the rights of activists, where were Thornburgh and Bush when antiwar protesters were arrested last winter for blockading federal buildings around the country? With no plausible Democratic politicians in this presidential race, the Republican Party must think it is invincible. When polls demonstrate that the vast majority of American women want their right to choose an abortion protected, do they really think an all-out war will have no political repercussions? Already a group calling themselves Republican Women for Choice is organizing other similarly discontented women. Smart would-be Democratic candidates will seize this opportunity to speak out in behalf of the rights of women. Indeed, the most unexpected political fallout may be among young men and women whom the the Republicans presume will vote for them. But on college campuses, feminism has gotten a new jump-start from young women angered by the Webster decision, the gag rule, and the administration's all-too-obvious partisan efforts on behalf of Operation Rescue. The gender gap has not disappeared. Republicans should not underestimate the power of an angry woman.

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