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Last Updated: Tuesday, 27 July, 2004, 16:54 GMT 17:54 UK
US abortion fight set to escalate
The BBC's Jannat Jalil
By Jannat Jalil
BBC correspondent in Washington

Abortion protestors
A pro-abortion rally attracted thousands

Kelly sits nervously on a couch in a clinic in Washington.

She is doing one of the most controversial things a woman can do in the United States - seeking an abortion.

She is grateful that the law allows her to choose when she can have a baby.

"I'm glad abortion's legal and available," she said.

"Especially if we don't have contraception that's 100% effective.

There's a war on choice in America and George W Bush is its commander in chief.
Gloria Feldt
"I'm glad there's an alternative because some people aren't ready to be mothers."

But more than 30 years after the US Supreme Court made abortion legal, womens' groups are warning this right could be taken away if President Bush is re-elected.

Since coming to office, he has signed a ban on one type of late-term abortion, and the first federal law that gives a foetus legal rights separately from its mother.


This has caused so much alarm, that more than 500,000 people took part in a protest in Washington earlier this year to support a woman's right to choose.

"There's a war on choice in America and George W Bush is its commander-in-chief," said Gloria Feldt, the president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

"It's hard to believe, and it's outrageous - but it's not only possible - it's highly likely.

"If President Bush were to be re-elected he would almost certainly have the opportunity to appoint one, two or more justices to the Supreme Court and he has already signalled by the kind of judges that he's appointing to the lower federal bench that he will appoint anti-choice ideologues."

The worry for the pro-choice lobby is that these judges might conceivably overturn the historic Supreme Court ruling in 1973 that legalised abortion.

No real choice

But Serrin Foster, the president of the anti-abortion group, Feminists for Life, says the women who took part in this year's march in Washington are mistaken if they think they have a real choice.

You were expected to devote the first 25 years of career working fulltime
Serrin Foster
She questions why in the world's richest country women aren't getting more financial, emotional and practical support so that they don't have to choose between having a career or having a baby.

"The idea of legalised abortion was sold to the women's movement in the seventies," she said.

"We've had a generation - my generation - who came into the workplace with the promise that we would be able to compete with men in the workplace.

"But you were expected to devote the first 25 years of career working fulltime.

"Women were told that women should not be bothering the employer with her maternity issues childcare issues.

"It is not his fault that women have children so why should he have to pay?"

Subtle approach

Anti-abortion campaigners have managed to introduce restrictions in the years since abortion became legal in the US.

Many states have adopted laws that limit abortion rights, which mean women sometimes have to travel further and pay more to have a termination, or have to involve their parents in what they're doing.

"The pro-life forces have been very smart about their approach in recent years," said Caroll Doherty of the independent group, the Pew Research Centre.

"They have gone towards the middle. They have tried to propose moderate sounding restrictions on abortion - the late term abortion, restrictions on requirements for parental notification - things like that.

"They are not addressing the issue head-on - and I think that's actually shown some success in recent years.

"The challenge for the pro-choice people now is to show that Bush is an extremist in spite of these moderate sounding restrictions."

Critics say President Bush is trying to impose his ideological agenda on abortion and family planning.

But among his supporters, especially in the religious right, many see him as a leader who offers new hope that the rights of the unborn child will one day be recognised as much as the rights of women.

Abortion activists on the march
26 Apr 04  |  Americas
Bush signs rights-for-foetus law
02 Apr 04  |  Americas
Murder case sparks abortion row
27 May 03  |  Health

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