Monday :: Mar 14, 2005

Abortion Rights: The Federal v. State Distinction

by rayman

Given the non-controversy that has broken out in the past week regarding anti-choice Democrat Bob Casey Jr.'s candidacy for Rick Santorum's Senate seat (fanned, in large part, by the normally astute E.J. Dionne), I think it's important to distinguish between the state level and the federal level when it comes to abortion rights. Throughout the past few decades, many state legislatures have effectively eliminated the ability of lower-income women to obtain abortions by enacting draconian restrictions. In Mississippi, for example, the Jackson Women's Health Organization is the sole remaining abortion clinic in the state, and its existence grows ever more perilous in an environment like this:

The Jackson clinic is located squarely in the Bible Belt in a state in which an overwhelming majority of elected officials are anti-choice. For example, the state's Governor, Haley Barbour, issued an official proclamation designating the seven days leading up to the anniversary of Roe v. Wade as "a week of prayer regarding the sanctity of human life." According to the same proclamation, Barbour also ordered the placement of small white crosses on the lawn of the State Capital "in memory of the unborn children who die each day in America."

Susan Hill, the owner of the Jackson clinic, explained, "Mississippi is the picture of the future. It's the perfect laboratory for any restriction [on abortion] - there's no way, politically, that it won't sail through the legislature."

Mississippi has some of the harshest abortion restrictions in the country. For example, it has one of the most sweeping conscience clauses in the country, allowing any health care provider to refuse to provide any abortion-related service. The state's laws also require women to wait at least 24 hours after an initial consultation with a doctor before having an abortion. Mississippi is also one of only two states which require the written consent of both parents before a minor can obtain an abortion, though a judicial bypass option is available.

As frightening as this reality undoubtedly is, it's important to emphasize that these restrictions are being enacted on the state level. On the federal level, however, there's far less anti-choice chicanery at play, for a number of reasons. Therefore, electing someone like Bob Casey Jr. to the Senate should not be a major source of concern for pro-choice activists because he wouldn't be able to affect abortion rights anyway. This, I believe, is the reason why NARAL and NOW have been relatively accomodating toward Harry Reid.

If, however, someone like Casey Jr. was running for governor of Pennsylvania, it would be a much greater source of concern for Democrats and pro-choice activists, because he would have far more latitude to circumscribe abortion rights, particularly with a Republican-controlled state legislature. But this is not the case. Given that Casey Jr. gives Democrats the best shot at unseating the odious Santorum (although Pennsylvania political watchers can chime in if this is incorrect), we really shouldn't be wasting our time obsessing over his anti-choice beliefs.

rayman :: 7:04 AM :: Comments (3) :: Digg It!