The Other Threat to Abortion Rights

Anti-abortion activists' biggest victories may be outside the courts

| April 26, 2007

Last week, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of a nationwide ban on abortions using intact dilation and extraction -- the so-called 'partial birth' method of abortion. The decision marked the anti-abortion movement's greatest legal victory in its 34-year campaign to overturn Roe v. Wade. But as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remarked in her stinging dissent, 'The law saves not a single fetus from destruction, for it targets only a method of performing abortion.' (And a little-used method at that.)

In fact, though you won't see it splashed across newspapers' front pages, the anti-abortion movement may be making its biggest gains outside of the courts by pursuing tactics to limit women's access -- rather than legal rights -- to abortion. From the United Kingdom to the United States, abortion protesters are effectively pressuring medical schools to drop abortion procedures from required curricula and slyly taking over closed abortion clinics.

According to an article in the Tucson Weekly , abortion is the most common surgical procedure performed on women in the United States, but due to pressure from anti-abortion groups, medical schools are treating training in the procedure as an elective. 'Since 1996, the national accrediting body for graduate medical education has required 'that access to experience with induced abortion must be part of residency education' for OB-GYNs,' Renée Downing writes, but 'under pressure from Congress, it protects the objections of individual residents by excusing them from the training. It also excuses programs from actually providing it.' If students wish to receive abortion training, they're often sent to outside clinics, such as Planned Parenthood. Only some schools include this coursework with their standard curricula; many OB-GYN residents are forced to take the classes on their own time, in addition to their notoriously demanding and full course loads.

A similar crisis is taking place in hospitals across the United Kingdom. Jeremy Laurance reports for the Independent that a growing number of doctors and nurses are refusing to take part in pregnancy terminations. 'Gynecologists who specialize in fertility treatment creating babies for childless couples are almost universally revered,' Laurance writes, 'but no one boasts of being an abortionist.' With 190,000 terminations performed in Britain each year, the National Health Service is struggling to find enough willing doctors. 'After decades of campaigning,' Laurance writes, 'anti-abortion organizations may be on the point of achieving their objective by default.'

In the United States, anti-abortion activists are taking their tactics a step further by renting out old abortion clinics. Writing for Mother Jones , Josh Harkinson visited Troy Newman, president of the anti-abortion group Operation Rescue, at what was formerly known as Central Women's Services in Wichita, Kansas. The clinic closed last May after enduring what Harkinson calls a 15-year 'siege' by Newman's organization. It now serves as Operation Rescue's headquarters. With the original phone lines still intact, Newman and his supporters field calls from women who aren't aware that the clinic has closed, and try to dissuade them from getting abortions. The former health center also houses a prayer garden and a memorial to 'unborn children.' Harkinson reports that Operation Rescue isn't the first anti-abortion organization to take over a clinic, citing groups in Tennessee, South Dakota, and Louisiana with similar missions. 'The best place to preach against an abortion clinic,' Harkinson writes, 'is from within one.'

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