Michelman: Abortion rights under fire


During heated debate at a Forum event on February 12, Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League (NARAL), discussed what she described as “the chipping away of abortion rights at the federal and state levels.” As evidence, she pointed to Bush cabinet appointees like John Ashcroft and Tommy Thompson, as well as judicial nominees like Charles Pickering, the latter serving as a focus for campaigns by pro-choice advocates.

Michelman summarized conditions for abortion providers around the country, arguing that 86 percent of the counties in the United States do not have an abortion provider, and that harassment of clinic staff members and physicians may threaten several of the remaining providers. Michelman described some clinics as in a “state of war” with constant harassment and surveillance by pro-life activists, including repeated terrorist threats and anthrax letters.

However, Michelman said she views the greatest threat to abortion rights as arising from the Supreme Court. She also designated 22 states’ governors anti-choice proponents who are committed to criminalizing abortion if Roe v. Wade were overturned. Michelman said she believes President Bush will appoint justices modeled after Scalia and Thomas who are “virulently opposed to Roe.” She also said she views Charles Pickering, who has called for a Constitutional Amendment banning abortion in all circumstances, as the most controversial anti-choice judicial nominee. Pickering is nominated to the 5th Circuit, where three states’ legislatures have introduced more than 175 measures to restrict abortion rights in recent years.

Describing the campaign by NARAL and other pro-choice organizations against Pickering, she said: “You can’t fight them all, but the stakes are very high when choosing whom you are going to fight.”

Though the audience appeared to include both pro-choice and pro-life activists, most questions came from pro-life students and community members who challenged Michelman’s support for abortion.

Bob Joyce, a practicing attorney and member of the Board of Directors of the Pro-Life Defense Fund, presented Michelman with a list of adjectives describing human life and demanded she provide a definition that justified abortion. Joyce said that the Human Genome Project proves that human life begins at conception and argued that no legitimate scientist claims otherwise. In conversation after the event, Joyce noted that the Massachusetts Life Fund and other pro-life organizations had been involved in preparing for Michelman’s arrival in Boston.

Several students noted with concern that Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood, had spoken just a few weeks earlier at HLS and presented a similar position. One student accused the Forum organizers of prejudice in supporting pro-choice activists during a political campaign. One Forum organizer said that, as a bipartisan organization intended to spark debate, the Forum had sent invitations earlier in the year to groups on both sides of this topic, but only certain speakers had been able to commit. After Michelman’s presentation, Daniel Hoffman, president of the Forum, asked Michelman to name some appropriate speakers to represent the pro-life position, and she suggested a few contacts in the National Right to Life Foundation.

Speaking about the event in general, both pro-life and pro-choice students commented that it was one of the most open and interesting debates that the Forum had organized.

John Sauer, a pro-life student, said he was satisfied that Michelman responded to questions from the audience that Feldt had refused to answer and said he considered this one of the bestForum events he had attended so far.

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