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Abortion rights activists get ready for another year of challenges

"The Stupak amendment was a wake-up call, and a big surprise to people all over the country who . . . generally thought that the basic right was in place and basic access was secure," said Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center.

If Congress approves a health-care bill and Obama signs it into law, the new legislation, in whatever form it takes, will probably leave significant decisions to the states, where activists and organizations on both sides are preparing to mobilize.

"By necessity, things will change in a variety of ways," Greenberger said. "And the whole question about coverage for abortion services has been put in the spotlight in a way that it never has been before. There's a whole new arena that will generate a lot of heat."

Antiabortion forces' fight

If they cannot make it illegal through federal law or the courts, opponents of abortion intend to make the procedure harder to obtain.

Already, successful legislative campaigns by antiabortion forces have quietly changed the way women in many states access abortion. Waiting periods, notification laws, required sonograms and mandated scripts have been added to medical protocols, to the satisfaction of abortion opponents and the consternation of providers.

Legislators in Montana introduced more antiabortion bills in 2009 than during any other session in the past 20 years, said Allyson Hagen, executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Montana.

With the state legislature out of session, she expects this year's focus to be on political races and a proposed constitutional amendment that would establish "personhood" from the moment of conception. Similar ballot initiatives are being pursued elsewhere, although a proposed amendment in Colorado lost in 2008 by 46 points.

"Personhood" supporters are hurrying to gather 49,000 signatures by mid-June, said lead organizer Ann Bukacek, who said a constitutional amendment would lay the groundwork for an end to abortion. Two years ago, she said, the effort fell 17,000 signatures short because the group got a late start.

"I think we'll get it this time, and if we don't, we'll do it again," said Bukacek, an internist at Hosanna Health Care in Kalispell. "We'll never stop. These are innocent, defenseless human beings who are being slaughtered. We're never going to stop fighting for their rights."

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