This Saturday, the nation will witness the inauguration of George W. Bush as the 43rd President of the United States. Bush achieved the presidency through one of the most closely divided elections in the country's history. The weekend will also see events that mark another historic occasion. The 1973 U.S. Supreme ruling on Roe v. Wade gave women in the U.S. the right to choose a legal abortion as a means to terminate pregnancy. The Senate has been holding confirmation hearings this week on the appointment of Missouri Republican Senator John Ashcroft to the post of U.S. Attorney General. As 90.3's Karen Schaefer reports, many groups in Ohio hold strong views on what Ashcroft's confirmation might mean.
Karen Schaefer- Both activists and legal experts agree that Ohio is one of a handful of states that have done the most to restrict legal abortion since it became the law of the land in 1973. There have been two landmark abortion cases from Ohio argued before the U.S. Supreme Court. In the more important of these cases, the court's ruling was that a state may require parental notification before an abortion is performed on an underage girl. In all, Ohio's Republican-dominated General Assembly has passed eight laws governing abortion. Like a number of others, the most recent of these -- banning the late-term abortion procedure known as D & X -- is still tied up in litigation and is not yet enforced. It's this political climate that concerns Scarlett Caminiti of Planned Parenthood of Greater Cleveland.
Scarlett Caminiti- What most people don't realize is that, in addition to the Supreme Court, the Department of Justice not only screens, but recommends judges for the federal circuit courts and the appellate courts. The Department of Justice, if Ashcroft is confirmed, can pack the lower courts with anti-choice judges.
KS- That could mean more cases in Ohio might result in court decisions that further restrict abortions, even if Roe v. Wade remains unchallenged. Caminiti says she's also worried about enforcement of the 1994 federal law guaranteeing safe access to abortion clinics.
SC- We deal with the realities of the restrictions to women's reproductive rights every day. The fact that when we have to go to one of our clinics, we have to be buzzed in. The fact that we receive hate mail and we need to be careful when we're out in the community
KS- Established in Cleveland 60 years ago, Planned Parenthood receives most of its funding from state and federal sources, funding Caminiti believes could shrink under a Bush administration. But Denise MacKura, director of Ohio Right-to-Life in Columbus, receives no government support. The former head of the Cleveland chapter, MacKura says she also has concerns about the laws governing abortion procedures. In particular, she's worried about the new abortion pill -- RU 486 -- approved for use by the federal Food and Drug Administration last September.
Denise MacKura- We've already had some cases in Cleveland where women have basically had their abortions at home. And as traumatic as it is in a clinic or a hospital setting, I can't imagine what it would be like to go through that at home. And, you know, they've called some of our pregnancy hot lines, basically panicking. There's a question about how much Ohio can do legally. Part of the problem is just getting the facts. Those are questions I have, I don't have the answers to them, but as a culture, as a society, as a government, as a democracy, we need to ask those questions and find out what really works.
KS- Other groups that oppose abortion have focused their attention on the issue of sex education in schools. Mary Ellen Urmin of Greater Cleveland Life Link says some state legislators are sympathetic to her organization's views.
Mary Ellen Urmin- We believe in abstinence only. Abstinence. When women held their virginity as a value, as something precious, they understood how precious they were. School systems that have taught the abstinence-only method show a decrease in teenage pregnancies versus throwing kids condoms.
KS- Teen pregnancy rates have dropped nationally in recent years. While groups like Planned Parenthood claim that's due to sex education programs like theirs -- which offer contraception information in some Cleveland schools -- the state is now beginning to study the effectiveness of abstinence-only teaching. At Preterm, Cleveland's oldest abortion clinic, director Chrisse France expresses her fear that as Attorney General, John Ashcroft could fundamentally challenge a woman's right to choose.
Chrisse France- I think one of the primary concerns is that in 1998, along with only Senators Jessie Helmes and Bob Smith, he proposed amending the Constitution. What he was proposing was the human life amendment, which would say that life begins at conception. Which would not only ban any form of abortion, but could also ban some very common forms of birth control, like the Pill and the IUD. One of the unfortunate things that's happened in recent years is, because choice is an option for women and it has been for 20-some years, there's a whole generation of people who never knew a time when abortion wasn't safe and legal.
KS- While France admits the likelihood of a constitutional amendment is small, the Senate will probably vote on Ashcroft's nomination next week and most pundits expect he will be confirmed. Some pro-choice advocates from the Cleveland area will undoubtedly head to Washington this weekend to counter rallies planned by anti-abortion activists. And in Cleveland, groups ranging from Right-to-Life to Operation Save America are gearing up for several days of protests leading to Monday's 28th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. One thing both sides agree on is that the next four years will see a new level of rhetoric on the abortion issue. In Cleveland, Karen Schaefer, 90.3 WCPN, 90.3 FM.