Beltway Brinkmanship – Nothing to risk our rights on



grandmother’s spirits were downcast last week because of baseball (the Red Sox

lost lead of the American League.) But they soared when she remembered the

Senate: "Just thinking about Jeffords cheers me up," she beamed. And this

Memorial Day, she wasn’t the only one celebrating the death of the Republican



end of George W’s easy ride in Washington should mean good things to progressive

thinking people, right? Democrats will have a chance to reshape the tax cut,

strike down the Cheney/Rumsfeld nuclear agenda, and above all else, deny the new

administration their most extreme appointees, including judicial nominees.

Already in gear to fight aggressive anti-choice candidates as those come up for

confirmation to the federal bench and sooner or later, to the Supreme Court,

reproductive rights advocates were particularly pleased with the Vermont



he announced his switch of affiliation from Republican to Independent, James

Jeffords specifically mentioned choice as one of the "fundamental issues" on

which he and the Bush team disagree. Now the Democrats take control of the

leadership of Senate committees and regain the majority there. "These changes

will be crucial to women’s and reproductive rights, as pro-choice Democrats will

replace anti-choice Republicans," wrote the Feminist Majority, May 24 (<a href=http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbite/printne


http://www.feminist.org/news/newsbite/printnews.as p?id=5542</a>.)


much as I’m happy to see my beloved grandmother elated, I’m nervous too, about

the sighs being heard around the Capitol. Democratic leaders, for one, can be

counted on for almost nothing. As two of their number – James Carville and Paul

Begala — pointed out in a bizarre op-ed in the New York Times May 27, "It took

a Republican to unmask the [radical] Bush agenda." (Why, one wonders, when those

two have media access like no Democratic politician alive.)


not forget that twelve Democratic Senators voted for that budget-less tax cut

and, on the very same day that Jeffords reminded the nation of W’s dubious

electoral mandate, three voted to confirm as US Solicitor General, Ted Olson,

the lawyer for GOP in Bush v. Gore. Olson, an aggressive, anti women’s rights,

anti-affirmative action attorney, is a critical player in the White House

crusade to reshape the judicial world. The Democrats had the power to filibuster

(the vote was super-tight: 51-47) but Daschle et al decided not to. Conciliation

was the better part of valor, the Democratic leaders explained.


there’s the rub. As long, for example, that pro-choice activism decides to surge

or fall with the Democrats, reproductive freedom will continue to be determined

by the conventions of Capitol Hill. Put another way, choice will be decided

according to good-old boy rules. The same is true of other "fundamental" issues,

but there’s none that more clearly illustrates the problem with permitting DC to

dominate progressive activist priorities.

Consider the case of Denise O’Donnell. For the last two and a half years,

O’Donnell, the US attorney for the Western District of New York, has been

pursuing the killer of Buffalo obstetrician, Barnett Slepian.


Slepian was shot through his kitchen window in October 1998 for performing legal

abortions on women who needed them. His killer escaped. After a complicated

international investigation led by O’Donnell, police finally arrested James

Charles Kopp, the alleged assassin, this March, in France. (Extradition papers

prepared by O’Donnell’s office were filed May 4, seeking the return of Kopp to

New York to stand trial.) In the United States, federal prosecutors working for

O’Donnell’s office picked up Loretta Claire Marra and Dennis John Malvasi of

Brooklyn, and charged them with aiding a fugitive, Kopp.


O’ Donnell won’t be on hand to prosecute, if and when the cases finally come to

court. On March 15, George W. Bush demanded O’Donnell’s resignation in the

middle of her four-year term. She is to vacate her office May 31. The story was

brought to national attention, not by O’Donnell’s home state paper of record,

the New York Times, but by the excellent, crusading online service Women’s Enews



attorneys, appointed by the President, mostly tender their resignation when a

new administration comes in, but there have been exceptions. In O’Donnell’s

case, both New York’s senators, Hillary Clinton and Chuck Schumer, asked the

White House to permit O’Donnell to complete her term. No dice. O’Donnell’s most

likely replacement is a conservative Republican judge, currently on the state

Family Court.


important is a US Attorney? For beleaguered abortion providers like Dr. Slepian

and the folks who run the clinics where they work, it comes down to – is there

anyone in power I can call?


quote from the WomensEnews article by Cynthia Cooper: "O’Donnell was the first

woman in the post of U.S. attorney in the 40-lawyer, 17-county Western District.

She was confirmed by the Senate only two days before Slepian was assassinated on

Oct. 23, 1998. She had moved up through the ranks after joining the office in

the Reagan administration in 1985. The Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances

Act, known as FACE, was signed into law by Clinton in 1994, making the doctor’s

murder one of the biggest cases to land in her jurisdiction.


what we went through, thank God it was under the prior administration," Marilyn

Buckham told Cooper. Buckham is the administrator of Buffalo GYN Womanservices,

the clinic where Dr. Slepian performed abortions.

Patricia Baird-Windle, a retired abortion provider in Florida underscores the

same point in a new book (co-written with Eleanor J. Bader, Palgrave, 5/01.)

"Targets of Hatred; Anti-abortion terrorism," reports in chilling detail how a

friendly US attorney can make life at a women’s clinic possible, or hell, simply

by enforcing, or choosing not to enforce the law.


years after the passage of FACE, Baird-Windle and Bader report that "improved

relationships between clinics and law enforcement in some cities – Buffalo,

Knoxville, Mobile and Pittsburgh, among them – have enabled clinic principals to

focus on expanding and improving existing services." But health centers in

Fargo, Ft. Wayne, Melbourne, Milwaukee, Pensacola, Redding and Wichita have not

had this option. "Year after year providers in those areas find themselves

returning to court to fight meritless lawsuits and get injunctions enforced and

lawbreakers arrested. Mired in holding their ground rather than expanding their

vision they feel frustrated and betrayed." And that was BEFORE John Ashcroft

became Attorney General.

National reproductive rights organizations have by necessity, had to fight hard

on Capitol Hill. Almost as soon as the Supreme Court in Roe v. Wade, recognized

a woman’s right to chose to end her pregnancy, DC legislators with their legal

associates began scheming to roll back the decision, and banned federal funding

for abortions, so the right was a right to choose something that for many was

impossible actually to do. Fighting the legal and electoral attack required big

money, DC lobby-power and huge amounts of electoral cash.


for just as long, the battle for reproductive choice raged locally too, with few

of the same resources and way less attention. "Foundations tend to award money

to groups working to keep abortion legal," writes Baird Windle, by way of

example, "This leaves us the providers of abortion, the key link in the chain,

to fend for themselves. It seems to me that they are putting things in the wrong

order because without providers, choice is an empty right and legal abortion is

meaningless," she writes.


the exception of the Feminist Majority Foundation, national pro-choice groups,

writes Baird-Windle "have confined their efforts to lobbying against abortion

restrictions and to working to elect pro choice candidates" while violent

anti-abortion extremists have tried, and successfully too, as once in Buffalo,

to make clinics a war zone.


the case of O’Donnell, or more importantly, her former "clients" – the people of

Western New York — maybe the shift in the Senate will change the situation.

Schumer sits on the Judiciary Committee, maybe he and his colleagues will be

able to block the incoming US Attorney candidates, and demand O’Donnell’s

reinstatement. That will depend on whether Democratic leaders consider the post

of US Attorney important enough – and what party brinkmanship requires that day.


illustrates the importance of keeping DC in perspective. Celebrate Jeffords by

all means, but keep an eye on the local league too.


Laura Flanders Show,"

Monday-Friday, 12- 2pm, EST


KWAB and


/radio/flanders/Rad ioforchange.com


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