Original Publication: Savvy Magazine – April, 1981.
January 22, 1973: Supreme Court Rules a Woman’s Right to Abortion Protected by 14th Amendment.
January 22, 1982: President Reagan Signs Into Law Legislation Banning Abortions, Outlawing IUD and Pill.
Impossible? Hardly. Improbable? Not really. Millions of American women believed that when the Supreme Court in 1973 established a right to privacy under the Fourteenth Amendment, which included the right to have an abortion, their freedom of choice was permanently protected. This is simply not so. In the present political climate of Washington, a woman’s right to choose whether or not to be pregnant is in serious jeopardy and could well be rescinded.
A Constitutional amendment to ban all abortions—even in cases where the mother’s life is endangered or in the cases of rape or incest—has long been the goal of the Right to Life movement and the newly powerful Moral Majority. A Constitutional amendment, however, requires a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress and ratification by three-fourths of the states. Members of the antiabortion movement admit they might not have enough votes for the amendment, but they are convinced they do have the votes to pass legislation which would, in effect, accomplish the same thing.
Last January, Senator Jesse Helms of North Carolina, Senator Alphonse D’Amato of New York and Congressman Henry J. Hyde of Illinois introduced little noted but enormously significant legislation affecting all women of child-bearing age. Their bill—S.158—amends the United States Code, the controlling body of federal law, to state that human life begins at conception. In other words, a fetus is a person entitled to all rights under the law and cannot be aborted. This bill, currently in the Judiciary Committees of both the House and Senate, requires only a simple majority of votes in both houses and the President’s signature to make it the law of the land. President Reagan has already promised to sign such a measure.
Even more chilling, key proponents of S.158 argue its adoption should also ban the use of the IUD and the birth-control pill because, they claim, these contraceptives act after fertilization. Since it is generally believed that the main action of the birth-control pill is to prevent ovulation, this line of reasoning is not only illogical but outrageously misleading. The Pro-Life lobby actually considers the IUD and the Pill “abortifacients,” which kill “preborn children.” In an open letter to Congress dated February 3, 1981, Judie Brown, president of the American Life Lobby Inc. warned: “The birth-control pill, when acting as an agent that irritates the wall of the uterus, makes the environment hostile to a fertilized egg, and thus the BRAND NEW HUMAN BEING DIES! The IUD, acting as a device which prevents the fertilized egg from implanting on the wall of the uterus, KILLS A BRAND NEW HUMAN BEING!”
While legal scholars heatedly debate whether the Supreme Court would eventually uphold such legislation as the Helms-Hyde bill, the political complacency of millions of American women is hastening its passage. It is a tragic irony that the Reagan administration, which came to power pledging to get government “off our backs,” wants to put it into our private lives—out of the board room, into the bedroom.
The Right to Life movement has been the most successful single-issue lobby in politics today, influencing individual members of Congress out of all proportion to their actual numbers. And while the National Abortion Rights Action League and other Pro-Choice groups may have the opinion of the majority of women on their side, they do not have their active support.
This is no time for women—the largest single group in America—to be passive and silent.
This article is typed from the original material. Please excuse any errors that have escaped final proofreading.