Right to Life Agenda




T

he
National Right To Life Committee (NRTLC)—the oldest anti-abortion
organization in the country—has a lot to gloat over this winter.
George W. Bush, called “the most solidly pro-life president
in 31 years” by the group, signed the first federal ban on
an abortion procedure last fall and an array of NRTLC agenda items
have come to fruition as well. 



  • 13
    states subject women to 24-hour delays between scheduling an abortion
    and having the procedure 


  • 33 states require
    girls under 18 to obtain the consent of, or notify, at least one
    parent prior to abortion 

  • Congress has
    banned access to abortion for virtually every woman who depends
    on the government for health care—Medi- caid and Medicare
    recipients; women in the military; military dependents; federal
    prisoners; Native Americans; and federal workers, including Peace
    Corps volunteers. 


Meanwhile,
the most violent wing of the anti-abortion movement has been clipped.
Clinic bomber Eric Robert Rudolph, on the lam for more than five
years, has been captured. James Kopp, responsible for assassinating
Dr. Barnett Slepian in 1998, is serving 25 years to life. Paul Hill,
guilty of murdering Dr. John Bayard Britton and bodyguard James
Barrett in 1994, was put to death by Florida prison authorities
in September. Just two months later, Stephen John Jordi of Miami
Beach was arrested for planning to bomb clinics; that same month
Clayton Waagner was convicted for mailing more than 400 letters
purporting to contain anthrax to women’s health centers. 


It’s
a NRTLC dream come true. As incidents of extreme anti-abortion violence
plummet, these “moderates” stand poised to thrust their
legislative wish-list on every state house in the nation. Among
their priorities: more money for abstinence-only programs, curbs
on teen access to abortion and contraceptives, and bills granting
embryos and fetuses protection against “victimization.” 


Young
people, says NARAL, remain favorite prey because “minors do
not vote. They have virtually no political power. Consequently,
they represent a safe target for anti-choice lawmakers bent on restricting
reproductive freedom.” 


Nowhere
is this more evident than in Kansas. That state’s assault on
youth began on June 18, 2003, the day Attorney General Phil Kline,
a 43-year-old Republican, announced a change in the reporting requirements
in cases of suspected child sexual abuse. Like every state in the
country, Kansas has, since the early 1970s, required that professionals
working with children—among them doctors, dentists, nurses,
coroners, medical examiners, psychologists, teachers, child care
providers, social workers, and law enforcers—notify the authorities
whenever child abuse or neglect is suspected. In 2000, 2.8 million
reports were filed nationwide; 879,000 cases were substantiated. 


Kline
got his impetus from State Senator Mark Gilstrap, an anti- abortion
Kansas City Democrat. In the spring of 2003, Gilstrap contacted
Kline and urged him to review the disclosure requirements regarding
minor’s access to reproductive health care—especially
abortion. Kline told the

Capital



Journal

newspaper
that his perusal of Child Abuse statutes led him to strengthen the
reporting mandates. “It is illegal for girls under 16 to have
sexual relations,” he says. Since sex for females under 16
is, by definition, “rape, [taking] indecent liberties with
a child, or unlawful voluntary sexual relations,” all libidinous
activities on the part of these teens has to be revealed. 


In
practical terms, if the courts uphold Kline’s directive, mandatory
reporters will have to notify the Kansas Department of Social and
Rehabilitative Services “if they come into contact with a boy
or girl younger than 16 who seeks medical attention for a sexually
transmitted disease, a girl who seeks medical attention for a pregnancy,
or children younger than 16 who seek birth control or who disclose
that they already have been sexually active,” since this is
“evidence” that a felony has been committed. 


Doctors
who fail to report “suspected abuse” face up to six months
in jail and a $1,000 fine. They can also be disciplined by the State
Board of the Healing Arts. 


Not
surprisingly, the shift is polarizing those who work with young
people. Kline says the change protects children from sexual exploitation.
In his corner are Kansans for Life, a NRTLC affiliate and the state’s
largest anti-abortion organization, and Concerned Women for America.
On the opposite pole are reproductive rights activists and care
providers, advocates for youth, the Medical Society of Kansas, the
Kansas Association of Social Workers, and several nursing groups. 


“Providers
of care have been required to report all suspected injuries from
abusive relationships for decades,” says Bonnie Scott Jones,
a staff attorney at the New York City-based Center for Reproductive
Rights and the lawyer who argued for an injunction to stop Kline
from imposing the new strictures. “Kline interprets the law
regarding illegal sexual activity to say that all sexual activity
is sexual abuse and is injurious so it has to be reported,”
Jones says. “It does not matter if the sex is consensual or
between similar-aged parties.” 


According
to the complaint Jones filed, “Plaintiffs fear that reporting
all consensual sexual activity between age-mates will not protect
adolescents from sexual abuse, but will instead threaten plaintiff’s
professional relationships with their patients and clients and deter
adolescents from obtaining needed care, at the expense of their
health.” 


“Kline
was very clever to focus many of his statements on doctors who perform
abortions even though he knew that the reporting requirement had
broad implications for public health and applies to all providers
of care to minors,” Bonnie Scott Jones says. “People,
including liberals, have not confronted the issue of what decisions
young people should be able to make outside the bosom of their families.
We know the stark realities about what adolescents do and what adults
wish they did. This case is the most extreme example of people who
are uncomfortable with adolescent sexuality. It goes beyond abortion.
Where the line gets drawn in terms of teen access to reproductive
healthcare services will be litigated and fought in professional
associations and communities over the next many years.” 


Until
it is resolved, and until abortion and birth control are recognized
for the social good they provide, the situation will likely deteriorate
further. According to the World Health Organization, 20 million
of the 50 million abortions performed worldwide each year are performed
in unsafe, unsanitary, and illegal conditions. On the day that you
read this, 200 women will have died from illicit procedures.







Eleanor
J. Bader is co-author of



Hatred: Anti-Abortion Terrorism.