Anti-choice groups and their political allies, namely Gov. Matt Blunt, are setting the stage for Missouri to become a test case in the next phase of attacks against Roe v. Wade, and a new national report on reproductive rights found more evidence of the manner in which Gov. Blunt and his anti-choice allies in the General Assembly are going to new and dangerous heights to constrain abortion access.
These latest attacks are not a mere coincidence. They are part of a calculated political strategy by a governor with sagging approval ratings to convince his demoralized far-right base to show up at the polls in November 2008.
Voters across the country should be concerned — these actions could lead to copycat attacks on abortion in states similar to Missouri, where anti-choice politicians occupy the governor's mansion and control the state legislature.
There are two tactics under way.
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The first is Governor Blunt's secret "abortion task force," which he was forced to acknowledge after media reports of its closed-door meetings.
The second is a proposed ballot measure that, if adopted, would ban abortion in almost all circumstances and could spur a legal challenge before the U.S. Supreme Court, which, with two new Bush appointees, is more open than ever to attempts to undermine or eviscerate the core holdings of Roe.
We need only to look north to South Dakota for a blueprint on how Gov. Blunt's task force will be used as a political weapon.
In 2005, South Dakota lawmakers created the South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion. Eleven of the 17 members of the task force were anti-choice.
The task force members produced a host of medically and factually inaccurate "findings" that perpetuated propaganda from non-scientific politically-motivated groups that had long sought to outlaw abortion.
One anti-choice legislator on the panel, state Sen. Julie Bartling, freely admitted that "[i]t is very important to lay the groundwork for what we hope in the next new [sic] few years will be a complete ban on abortions in South Dakota."
Bartling got her wish. The task force issued a report with a series of legislative recommendations that called on the state government to enact a near-total ban on abortion and a number of additional measures, including promotion of "abstinence-only" programs (instead of traditional, comprehensive sex education), and censorship of discussion of birth control in these programs.
The task force's anti-choice contingent rejected common-ground alternatives issued in a separate set of recommendations by several members of the task force who strongly disagreed with the final report. Instead, the anti-choice contingent began waving the misleading report as a state-sanctioned green light for additional attacks on a woman's right to choose.
Then, the report's backers got another signal to move ahead after the confirmation of Justice Samuel Alito as Justice Sandra Day O'Connor's replacement on the Supreme Court. Alito was on the bench for less than four weeks before anti-choice legislators began work on an abortion ban that would directly challenge Roe. The ban's chief sponsor, state Rep. Roger Hunter, said, "I'm convinced the timing is right for this."
Using the "findings" of the one-sided task force report, legislators passed an abortion ban that Gov. Mike Rounds signed into law on March 6, 2006.
Fortunately for the women of South Dakota, the ban spurred a bipartisan grassroots effort to repeal this egregious attack on safe, legal abortion. The coalition–the South Dakota Campaign for Healthy Families –collected thousands of signatures and qualified a repeal measure for the November 2006 ballot. And voters in one of the nation's most conservative states resoundingly rejected the abortion ban, 56 to 44 percent.
While the political backlash may have temporarily stymied anti-choice forces in South Dakota and blunted their quest for a legal challenge to Roe, their tactics, with minor adjustments, are now being refined and imported by anti-abortion groups to Missouri. In Blunt's case, the governor didn't even bother with a perception of objectivity. All 14 of his task-force members represent organizations that oppose legal abortion.
In Missouri, the Illinois-based Elliot Institute is already collecting signatures to put a measure on the ballot that would ban abortion in Missouri in all but limited circumstances.
The Elliot Institute's web site is riddled with dangerous myths like a link between abortion and breast cancer that were long discredited by the National Cancer Institute and the Susan G. Komen Foundation for Breast Cancer Research.
This group's ballot measure has a deceptive title with language right out of the far right's playbook.
It would make it medical malpractice for doctors to provide an abortion unless they meet a number of medically unnecessary requirements.
A medical emergency is defined so narrowly that even some women for whom an abortion is necessary to prevent their death would still be subject to the bill's counseling requirements and "reflection time." That could mean that a woman whose doctor has determined her life is in jeopardy could have to wait 48 hours before receiving the life-saving treatment she needs.
The link between this ballot measure and Blunt's task force is clear. Proponents of the abortion ban will cite the material as information backed by the state of Missouri, when, in fact, it comes from a biased task force of which many voters may never be aware.
Pro-choice advocates in the Show-Me State are preparing for a bruising and expensive political battle.
In November 2008, the best way for voters to end divisive attacks on a woman's right to choose and protect Roe for future generations is to vote their pro-choice values – not only in my home state of Missouri, but throughout the nation.
The 17th annual Who Decides? The Status of Women's Reproductive Rights in the United States is the nation's most comprehensive report with analysis and tracking of choice-related legislation and Court decisions. The report cites Missouri as enacting six anti-choice laws in 2007, tying it with Oklahoma for the most of any state. It also ranks Missouri as 48th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia for protecting women's access to reproductive health services. The report and additional up-to-the minute information can be found at http://www.prochoiceamerica.org/whodecides/.