The Tech - Online EditionMIT's oldest and largest
newspaper & the first
newspaper published
on the web
Boston Weather: 73.0°F | Fair

Local NOW President Speaks to New Pro-Choice Group

By Karen Kaplan
Executive Editor

In South Dakota, the state's only abortion services clinic was blown up.

In Massachusetts, women leaving health centers after routine Pap smear tests face mobs of protesters shouting "murderer."

And just this week in Ireland, it took a court decision to allow a 14-year-old rape victim and her parents to travel to England so she could receive an abortion.

"That's not that different from the road the Supreme Court, the Bush Administration, and Congress are heading us down," said Ellen Zucker, president of the Boston chapter of the National Organization for Women. "We're going to Washington, D.C., to say, `We're not going to put up with that.' "

Zucker addressed the first meeting of a new campus group, MIT Students for Choice, on Tuesday night in an effort to persuade students to participate in the March for Women's Lives on April 5 in Washington. In this election year, march organizers hope to "send a message" to President Bush, to Congress, and to the Supreme Court, which is scheduled to rule on a state abortion law before November.

"We've got some real chances here to change things... . Let's send a message to the Bush administration, the Supreme Court, and Congress that they'd better shape up and they'd better change," she said.

In addition to attending the Washington march in April, Zucker encouraged students to distribute leaflets and posters, make phone calls, discuss the issue "around the office and in the supermarket checkout line," and promote general awareness about the march and about reproductive freedom rights in general.

Burden of proof shifted

"We've already lost the essence of Roe v. Wade," the 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized most abortions throughout the country, Zucker said. Now, she said, the court has changed the burden of proof in abortion cases, eviscerating Roe."

When Roe v. Wade was handed down, the Court recognized a woman's "fundamental right" to have an abortion in most circumstances, Zucker said. According to this standard, it would be very difficult for governments to pass laws restricting this right. But over the past two decades, a series of Supreme Court decisions on federal funding, parental notification, and information distribution has narrowed that standard, Zucker said. Now the judicial standard allows legislatures to restrict access to abortions if the law is not "unduly burdensome," she continued.

"Federal protection and the fundamental right to abortion is almost laughable," Zucker said. "It's so easy for states to regulate reproductive rights."

Blame more than Bush

Although the Supreme Court could potentially overrule Roe v. Wade this year, Zucker placed the blame for the erosion of reproductive freedom rights on Congress, Bush, former president Ronald Reagan, and an unconcerned electorate.

"Indeed, it's the fault of all those men and women who persisted in confirming anti-choice advocate after anti-choice advocate," Zucker said. "The Supreme Court put forward by the Reagan and Bush administrations was confirmed and anointed by" the electorate at large, she continued.

Zucker told members of the pro-choice group about a friend of hers who worked in hospital emergency rooms as a resident before 1973. "He said there wasn't a night that went by when a woman didn't come in hemorrhaging from a botched abortion. Sometimes they could save them, but sometimes there was nothing they could do," she said. Zucker warned that pregnant women would resort to back-alley abortions rather than carry pregnancies to term.

"Young women the age of you all have died of illegal abortions in recent years," she continued.

Group has big plans

Right now, the group's main focus is to mobilize students for the April 5 march in Washington. To that effect, they hope to raise money to subsidize students who can not afford to take the trip, and to produce a joint issue with The Thistle in early April to highlight reproductive freedom and choice issues.

On March 15, MIT Students for Choice will host an address by Patricia Ireland, national president of NOW, at MIT.

In the long run, the group hopes to sponsor letter-writing campaigns to elected representatives and inform the MIT community about choice issues through booths and posters.