The Battle over Abortion

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an Atlanta abortion clinic offered free abortions to Medicaid-eligible patients for one day only. Fifty women applied, more than double the normal daily number. Some 70 abortion foes turned out in pouring rain to protest at the clinic, many carrying small children.

Minnesota. Hearings began last week on a parental notification bill similar to the Utah statute. The intensity of feelings about the issue was evident in the testimony. Said Willie Mae Demming, a tearful middle-aged black woman: "They gave my daughter an abortion, and she didn't want them to. She's deaf. She thought she was going on a picnic. She wanted the baby." Another mother, testifying against the bill, described what happened to her sister: "When our father learned she was pregnant, he beat her. He beat her until his arms were tired. This bill is punitive."

Missouri. Saturday pro-life sit-ins at selected abortion clinics in St. Louis are symptomatic of the fiery personal confrontations engendered by the abortion debate. A week ago, two dozen protesters at the Women's Clinical Group tried to talk arriving women out of having abortions and blocked the door to prevent them from entering the clinic. Police then arrested the protesters for trespassing. Ann O'Donnell, one of the pro-life leaders, believes at least one woman is dissuaded from an abortion each week. Says she: "When a woman sees that someone is willing to be arrested to save her baby, she has second thoughts."

The nation's current antiabortion crusade was originally spearheaded by the Roman Catholic Church. A Pastoral Plan for Pro-Life Activities, approved in 1975 by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops, committed the church to antiabortion educational activities, counseling programs for women with problem pregnancies, and a political effort "to ensure legal protection for the right to life." Respect Life groups were set up in parishes across the country. Although the church retained a leadership role, the movement was quickly secularized. Today the largest antiabortion group is the National Right to Life Committee, which has an estimated 13 million members. Its leadership includes Protestants and Jews as well as Catholics, liberals as well as conservatives. Other religious leaders are active on the pro-choice side. The Religious Coalition for Abortion Rights, which represents most main-line Protestant and Jewish denominations in the U.S., has affiliates in 30 states, and argues that decreeing that human life begins at conception would force one religious belief on members of other faiths.

A major reason for the growth of the pro-life movement is the concern of parents who feel that free and easy access to abortion is a serious threat to the breakdown of family values. Says David O'Steen, director of Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life: "Clearly, abortion as a means of birth control is going to encourage sexual activity. It is the ultimate out for sexual irresponsibility. A teen-ager can have an abortion and her parents will never hear of it." About 40% of females who turn 14 this year are expected to become pregnant while they are still teenagers.

To a large extent, the antiabortion movement has recently come under the aegis of the New Right. Conservative pro-life groups have formed a loose-knit alliance with organizations opposed to school

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