With the Republican sweep in November’s elections still fresh in their minds, abortion rights supporters and opponents marked the 30th anniversary of Roe v. Wade – the U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion – on Wednesday.
The lawyer who successfully argued the Roe v. Wade case spoke at the University about the struggle to maintain legalized abortions.
Earlier in the day, thousands of abortion opponents gathered at the State Capitol for an annual rally sponsored by Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life.
“From St. Paul to Albany, from Paynesville to Ely, Minnesota is pro-life,” said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach.
For many abortion opponents, a Republican president, combined with GOP victories in congressional, legislative and gubernatorial races, means the abortion legislation they favor might soon become law.
“On this 30th anniversary, I see new beginnings, and it’s happening all across America,” said MCCL President Leo LaLonde.
“We now have a pro-life majority in both houses of the Minnesota Legislature,” he said.
Democratic St. Paul Mayor Randy Kelly thanked demonstrators for attending the rally amid negative 20 degree wind chills.
“Some of you have come here for 30 straight years, and we appreciate that,” he said.
Other politicians took turns addressing the crowd. Republican U.S. Rep. Mark Kennedy called abortion “the number one civil rights issue of our day.”
Republican U.S. Rep. John Kline said, “We’re here because we know the great gift of life that God has given each of us deserves our protection.”
Republican Sen. Norm Coleman sent a letter of support, as did Democratic U.S. Reps. Collin Peterson and James Oberstar.
Gov. Tim Pawlenty, Lt. Gov. Carol Molnau, Secretary of State Mary Kiffmeyer and State Auditor Pat Anderson Awada, also thanked demonstrators for attending.
“It’s been 30 years, but for the first time we have a majority in the House and Senate,” Anderson Awada said. “We have a governor who supports our cause, and we are going to get some legislation passed.”
Fischbach outlined abortion opponents’ two legislative goals: preventing abortion providers from receiving state money and passing a disclosure and waiting-period plan known as “A Woman’s Right to Know.”
Fischbach said abortion opponents in the Legislature increased their numbers by five in the Senate and 10 in the House during the last election.
“What a difference one year and one election can make,” he said. “Now is the time. This is the year. Let’s empower the women of our state and tell them the truth about abortion.”
According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, 1.31 million abortions were performed in the United States in 2000, a 3 percent decline from 1996 that followed a 12 percent decline from 1992-96.
The number of abortions nationwide has been falling from an all-time 1990 high of more than 1.6 million. The number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15 to 44 has been falling since the mid-1980s.
The Guttmacher survey of abortion providers found 14,610 abortions in Minnesota in 2000, down from 14,660 in 1996 and 16,180 in 1992.
Minnesota’s abortion rate has always been below the national average.
According to the National Center for Health Statistics, 22 percent of pregnancies for women aged 15 to 44 ended in abortion in 1996, down from 24 percent in 1976.
‘Roe’ lawyer speaks at “U”
Attorney Sarah Weddington, who successfully argued Roe v. Wade before the U.S. Supreme Court at age 26, told a University audience Wednesday night that legalized abortion faces serious threats after the last election.
“We are besieged today by more enemies in more powerful positions than has ever been true since Roe v. Wade,” Weddington told approximately 600 attendees at a $30-per-plate dinner held at the Gateway alumni center.
Weddington described the experience of arguing the case before the Supreme Court, including the fact that in 1973, the Supreme Court still had no women’s restroom in its lawyers lounge.
“I will never forget the night before oral arguments,” Weddington said. “I was up all night making sure there was nothing they could ask me that I wouldn’t know.”
The three-part argument, Weddington said, was that pregnancy is fundamental to women’s lives, women had a constitutional right to obtain abortions and the Texas statute limiting abortions was not supported by a compelling justification.
“A lot of people from that generation, my generation, can still remember where they were when they heard Roe v. Wade had been decided,” she said.
But Weddington said recent elections have placed abortion rights supporters on the defensive, a situation she compared to the climactic battle in the film “The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers.”
“The enemy has broken through our defenses, and they’re more powerful than they have ever been,” she said.
Weddington said November’s Republican victories put abortion opponents in power in both houses of Congress and in many state legislatures and governorships to support President George W. Bush and Attorney General John Ashcroft, who both oppose abortion.
“What’s happening to erode civil liberties is serious, and John Ashcroft is at the center of most of it,” she said.
But Weddington said she was encouraged to see many young abortion rights supporters in the audience and that they would never let abortion be outlawed.
“Women, not the government, should be making their most important decisions,” she said.