New Landscape for Abortion Debate

The Associated Press
Friday, January 19, 2007; 4:51 PM

NEW YORK -- Anti-abortion activists are girding for their annual marches and rallies marking the anniversary of the court decision legalizing abortion, in a political climate transformed by elections that empowered their abortion-rights adversaries.

In contrast to recent years, when participants at the March for Life in Washington urged the Republican-controlled Congress to expand fetal rights and restrict abortions, activists are now discussing defensive strategies in the face of the Democratic takeover.

"Christ said we must be as clever as serpents and harmless as doves," said the Rev. Rob Schenck, president of the conservative National Clergy Council. "With pro-choice leaders in the House and Senate, we may need to be downright snaky."

Schenck is helping organize an anti-abortion worship service at a Senate office building just before Monday's March for Life, which will mark the 34th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court's Roe v. Wade decision establishing a nationwide right to abortion.

Events elsewhere include a Walk for Life in San Francisco and a protest in Wichita, Kan., targeting a clinic where late-term abortions are performed. Abortion-rights activists also will be energized, holding a vigil at the U.S. Supreme Court and presenting political leaders with a petition signed by thousands of women declaring they had abortions.

"I feel the wind is at our back, for the first time in years," said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation and a driving force behind Ms. magazine's "I had an Abortion" petition drive.

On the other side, Kimberly Zenarolla of the National Pro-Life Action Center predicted anti-abortion marchers will be more motivated than ever this year because of the election results.

"It's serving to unite the pro-life effort more," she said. "They see a need to stand up."

In Congress, any anti-abortion measures are likely to be blocked by the new leadership. Democrats instead will push a "Prevention First" initiative intended to reduce abortions by improving family-planning services, requiring insurance companies to cover birth control, and requiring federally funded sex education programs to provide accurate information on contraceptives.

"One election cycle doesn't change everything. ... but I think we'll see more prevention legislation get through," said Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

The Democrats, however, would need some Republican support to overcome possible vetoes by President Bush, and some relatively conservative Democrats who won seats in November will be wooed by anti-abortion groups. Some anti-abortion leaders believe there can be common cause on pushing for paid maternity leave as a step to dissuade pregnant women from seeking abortions.

Perhaps more so than Congress, state legislatures remain battlegrounds, with some states tightening access to abortion and contraceptives while others broaden it.

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© 2007 The Associated Press