Megan was 24 when she had her abortion. She was fresh from college in the first semester of her first teaching job. "I was upset and angry with myself when I found I was pregnant," she says. "I knew the consequences of having unprotected sex. I was disappointed with myself. I would have been embarrassed for people to know, especially my family." Megan (in respect of privacy the name of the subject of this story was changed) never considered carrying the pregnancy to term.
Abortion in Indiana ï There were 12,272 abortions reported in Indiana in 2000. ï Of those, 61 percent were white, 25.9 percent were black, 72.7 percent were unmarried. ï Of women obtaining abortions, 34.5 percent were 20-24 years old, 23 percent were 25-29 years old, 11 percent were 18-19 years old. ï Abortions are available in only six Indiana counties: Porter, Lake, St. Joseph, Allen, Marion and Monroe. ï Only women living in Ft. Wayne, South Bend, Valparaiso, Merrillville, Gary, Indianapolis and Bloomington can get an abortion in their own community. ï There are just 10 outpatient abortion clinics in the state, five of which are in Indianapolis. There are no abortion clinics in the state south of Bloomington. Abortion nationally ï The annual abortion rate fell from 1.4 million in 1994 to 1.3 million in 2000. ï Almost half of that decline is attributed to the drug Preven, also known as the "morning after pill." ï Fifty-six percent of U.S. women who obtain abortions are in their 20s. ï Sixty-seven percent of U.S. women who obtain abortions have never been married. ï Though abortion rates are falling overall, the rate is actually increasing for low income women. ï Mississippi, Louisiana, Utah and Wisconsin have abortion counseling laws, requiring that a woman meet with her doctor in person before an abortion. Sources: Indiana Department of Health, the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy, the Alan Guttmacher Institute and Planned Parenthood of Greater Indiana
"There was never a doubt about having an abortion," she recalls. "I just didn"t want to have a baby right then. I wanted to pursue my career. It would have been an emotional and financial struggle. I wasn"t ready to share that much of my life with anyone at that point. My job was hard and consuming. I didn"t feel there was enough of me to go around." She remembers the day of the abortion, walking from the car to clinic and seeing protestors behind a police barricade. They carried signs that spoke of baby killing. Megan has never seen it that way. "I was angry at them [the protestors]. This was my right. I felt they were zealots. They needed to mind their own business. In my opinion I was aborting a mass of developing cells that were not yet a person." There is an air of surprise in Megan"s expression as she talks, rediscovering and reaffirming the desperately private decision she made so long ago. She has rarely spoken about it in the decade and a half since it happened, even with the father, whom she later married. Hers was not a lonely experience. "The father offered to marry me ... offered to do anything I wanted to do. He drove me to the clinic, shared the experience as much as he could." He sat with her in the waiting room, thumbing through and reading bits from a book of humor, trying to take her mind off the procedure. As for regrets, Megan says only, "I regret that I put myself in that position. But it was not birth control. It was a surgical procedure to remove dividing cells from my body." She shakes her head at the thought of the semantics of the issue. "Maybe birth control should be called conception control." Megan has no regrets, but, watching her children grow and change, she does sometimes wonder about the child that might have been had she carried it to term, what its personality might have been. "Is that hypocritical?" she asks. When asked if abortion is wrong, Megan says emphatically, "No, it"s not wrong. I think it"s unfortunate. But people are fallible. They make mistakes. It should be legal ... with restrictions. But it"s going to happen and we have to deal with that ... and deal with it in a safe and medically sound, health conscious way." Creating obstacles In January of 1972, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its pivotal Roe v. Wade decision, making abortion legal in all 50 states. Women"s rights advocates hailed the decision as a triumph for women and reproductive rights. Religious conservatives branded the decision an abomination. In the past 30 years, abortion providers have been murdered by pro-life extremists, abortion clinics have been bombed and protestors have routinely blocked clinic doors. The volatile issue has divided communities and polarized politics. Perhaps more importantly, pro-life politicians have methodically sought to erect obstacles to abortion access, aiming for an eventual overturning of Roe v. Wade. On the front lines is Planned Parenthood, led by the organization"s Indiana President and CEO Betty Cockrum. The latest obstacle her group is fighting is Indiana"s abortion counseling law. The law requires women to make two trips to an abortion provider. During the initial visit, a medical professional must counsel the woman face-to-face about the abortion procedure, its risk and alternatives and offer her photographs of a fetus at a developmental stage matching her own. Then 18 hours must pass before the actual abortion takes place. "I find it offensive to suggest that women need that extra kind of counseling," Cockrum says, "and that it needs to be face-to-face to be comprehended. Abortion isn"t just something a woman considers as another option. It"s done from a trying and difficult perspective. The suggestion of beneficial counseling masks that the actual intent is to create an obstacle." Cockrum maintains that those most affected by the counseling law will be Hoosier women who already have the fewest options. "My concern is more directed to women who are more economically challenged and in rural areas. I spent seven years as a single mother and know how hard it is to juggle life and activities. For many women, this law will require transportation twice, lodging twice and alternatives for care of family members. It"s an unnecessary burden." When asked to characterize the pro-life lawmakers who authored the Indiana counseling law, Cockrum interrupts and says, "We"re all pro-life, but they"re anti-choice." The quiet divide The quiet divide the abortion issue has made through Indiana"s political landscape is well expressed by David Orentlicher and Jim Atterholt, Indiana"s 86th District House opponents from last November"s election. Orentlicher is a graduate of both Harvard"s law and medical schools. The pro-choice Democrat won the 86th House seat by a wafer thin margin in the state"s most contentious race. Former head of the American Medical Association"s Ethics Division, he brings a unique perspective to Indiana"s Statehouse. Had Orentlicher lost, conservative Republican, pro-life incumbent and Dan Burton protÈgÈ Jim Atterholt would be returning to the House. While in office, Atterholt earned a 100 percent approval rating from the state"s primary abortion opponent, Indiana Right To Life. In their own ways, Orentlicher and Atterholt exemplify the simmering, seesaw debate over reproductive rights. Their motives, beliefs and supporters provide a glimpse into how the issue is fought within the state and a microcosm of how the dispute plays out nationally. The current legal debate over Indiana"s abortion counseling law is a case in point. Orentlicher was sworn in this month, but had he been in office in 1995 when the counseling law was passed by a Republican-controlled Legislature, he would have voted against it. He questions the intent of those lawmakers and the impact of their law. "No doubt there were some mixed motives here," Orentlicher says. "The Supreme Court has said that states have a legitimate right to try to persuade a woman not to get an abortion Ö but they can"t put up obstacles. You may hypothesize actual reasons for the law, but you could also hypothesize that it"s simply meant as an obstacle." Atterholt sees it differently. "I disagree that it was meant as an obstacle. If women were given all the information about the issue they might be more likely to choose life. The law is very pro-women. Knowledge is power, informing women with all the options and all the information available gives them the power to make the best choice." Few would argue with that sentiment. But it"s the practical application of the law and whom it could hurt that bothers pro-choice legislators like Orentlicher, who echoes Betty Cockrum. "This law will mostly affect lower income women," he says. "Before Roe there were many states where middle and upper income women could travel for abortions. But lower income women didn"t have that luxury. Roe made it possible for lower income women to get the same service in their own state. "I think the main concern is the waiting period of 18 hours. It makes sense that you wait and think. The problem is that it"s sometimes more than just sleeping on it. Sometimes an 18 hour waiting period becomes a week"s waiting period if you live far away. The benefits of the law are few and the risks are greater. When women wait [for an abortion] longer into the pregnancy it can become medically more dangerous, too." Atterholt is unmoved by such criticisms of the law. "Abortion is a human rights issue for me, not just for the unborn, but for the elderly as well. Life is God-given and should be respected." In 1995, just months after the law was enacted, U.S. District Judge David Hamilton issued an injunction stopping the law from taking effect. Two years later he lifted the injunction, though allowing the counseling to take place over the phone. In 2001, Hamilton permanently struck down the in-person counseling requirement. But just last September, a three-member panel of the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals revived the law. Almost immediately, the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy in New York petitioned the U.S. Supreme Court. Should the court decide to hear the case, the abortion issue will be thrust once more into the national spotlight. If they refuse to hear it, the counseling law will stand. How the court votes will be decided by the same kinds of forces that worried whether the "pro-life" Jim Atterholt or "pro-choice" David Orentlicher would win Indiana"s 86th District House seat. Orentlicher received a campaign contribution from the National Organization of Women, a pro-choice group, while Indiana Right To Life mailed out thousands of fliers urging voters to support Atterholt. But it"s not just minor state laws they seek to influence. On the national level, such "pro-life" and "pro-choice" forces have lobbied presidents and senators for decades, each side eager to see federal courts packed with judges who believed as they did about reproductive rights. The Indiana counseling law: "It"s bullshit" In his quiet, methodical way, Orentlicher maintains that Indiana"s abortion counseling law is unnecessary. "There"s a lot of evidence that women already do give the issue a lot of thought and consult with friends and relatives." Sheila Kennedy describes the law more bluntly. "It"s bullshit!" she spits. Kennedy is an assistant professor of law and public policy at the IUPUI School of Public and Environmental Affairs, and she does not mince words. "Indiana"s abortion counseling law is just another effort to make it difficult for women to access abortions. If they [pro-life lawmakers] consistently asked for informed consent under all medical procedures, I wouldn"t have a problem with it. But they"re singling out a procedure they don"t like and burdening a woman"s access. How about men having a vasectomy? Maybe men should have to go twice." Kennedy sees supporters of the law as religious zealots. "These folks have no genuine commitment to limited government. They want it limited in the business arena but not in the personal arena. They want to control women and sexual behavior. Things haven"t been the same since we got out of the kitchen. I think a substantial portion of the male pro-life movement is anti-woman. The world has changed and they don"t like it." Though there are certainly lawmakers on both sides of the issue who hold such blunt opinions, most have grown unwilling to express them publicly for fear of alienating voters who disagree. But behind the scenes, both sides are working to support, or thwart, reproductive rights. And on the national scene, Republicans have the upper hand. The common wisdom in Washington is that the new 108th Congress, now controlled by the Republican Party, will quickly move to restrict access to abortion. Still, a request for forecasts on reproductive rights legislation from Indiana"s senators is met by cautious, carefully-worded statements. Democratic Sen. Evan Bayh offers no predictions on legislation or how he would vote; instead he issued the following statement to NUVO reaffirming his commitment to abortion rights. "Any unwanted pregnancy and possible abortion is a tragic circumstance. The question is who decides what to do? I believe that the decision should be made by families, in consultation with clergy and their doctor, not by politicians." Nick Webber, deputy press secretary for Republican Sen. Richard Lugar, said, "Senator Lugar is a longtime pro-life supporter. Last year the house approved a ban on late term abortion. Most predictions are that the Senate will take up that issue. Senator Lugar would support a ban on partial birth abortion." When asked what other limits might be placed on abortion rights, Webber curtly replied, "Senator Lugar has long supported pro-life efforts and that"s the furthest I"m willing to go." Sheila Kennedy is willing to go further. "We are probably more in danger right now than we have been in quite a while [of seeing limits on reproductive rights], thanks to the mid-term elections. All reports suggest that reproductive rights challenges are going to be introduced, starting with an outlaw on late term abortions. These are people who don"t mind making these decisions for women." Those who share Kennedy"s fears find ample evidence in the judges who revived Indiana"s abortion counseling law. When the law made its way last year to the 7th Circuit Court in Chicago, a three-judge panel reviewed it. Two justices, Judges Frank Easterbrook and John Coffee, voted to allow the law to stand. Former President Ronald Reagan, a staunch opponent of abortion rights, appointed both. The remaining judge, Diane Wood, voted to strike down the law. Wood was appointed by former President Bill Clinton, a supporter of abortion rights. The text of the lengthy decision is filled with verbal barbs and insults, with Easterbrook and Coffee attacking Wood"s opinions and Wood returning in kind. Both sides make passionate personal arguments about abortion, at times barely veiled behind legal language. Most irksome to pro-choice Hoosiers, Easterbrook and Coffee accepted that the law could prevent perhaps 10 percent to 13 percent of Hoosier women from getting an abortion, but that this did not impose an undue burden on women exercising their constitutional right to an abortion. The bottom line: The president and senators we elect to serve in Washington may well determine a woman"s access to abortion back home in Indiana. Overturning "Roe v. Wade" The prospect of a Supreme Court reversal of Roe v. Wade increasingly haunts the pro-choice faithful. Betty Cockrum of Planned Parenthood says, "It"s painful to think about taking that step backward. It would have some tragic outcomes. We"d return to the cloak of darkness, with less safe circumstances for those women who will pursue abortion even if it"s illegal. It causes births to happen when people aren"t prepared to be parents." Sheila Kennedy sees an end to Roe v. Wade as a real possibility. "They [Republican legislators] are going to bring back the same kinds of people they tried to get in last session. These Bush appointees are so far to the right they make some Reagan appointees look liberal. And most of the Reagan people are preferable to the ideologues that Bush recommends. Bush has made a Faustian bargain with the religious right, "I will give you the federal courts if you will get out and vote for me." Right now, constitutional rights are as fragile as they have been in my adult life. I"m really depressed." But abortion foes like Jim Atterholt are pleased with the current president and Congress. "I think the president will nominate strict constructionists to the courts and by definition that person would be pro-life," he says. "That would be people who interpret the Constitution as it was written without imposing their personal beliefs. I believe a strict reading of the Constitution would lead one to be pro-life. The basic protection of human life is found within the Constitution." Atterholt believes a potential overturning of Roe v. Wade would be a good thing. "If Roe v. Wade is overturned it would simply leave it up to the states to decide. Abortions wouldn"t end. Each state should be able to choose. What"s right for Massachusetts may not be right for Indiana. It"s what our founding fathers intended." Atterholt"s former opponent Orentlicher is less concerned about the future of Roe v. Wade than Kennedy. "Because this is so grounded in constitutional law," he observes, "and the setting of precedent, it"s hard to imagine it being overturned. The court has been invited many times to overturn Roe, but the basic principle has held - let women choose."
Indiana Rally for Reproductive Choice
Staff Report Pro-choicers will join Planned Parenthood of Greater Indiana, the IN Pro-Choice Coalition and other pro-choice organizations at the Reproductive Rights Rally at the Indiana Statehouse Rotunda, today, Wednesday, Jan. 22 from 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Rally speakers will address the theme "What Roe Did (and Still Does) for Women and Women"s Rights." Issues to be addressed include abortion, medically accurate sex education, emergency contraception and insurance coverage for contraception. At the rally, held on the 30th anniversary of the legalization of abortion, you will hear women"s stories; plus, Roe v. Wade fact sheets and tips on how to speak with legislators will be available. "It is even more important this year to show support for reproductive rights," says Betty Cockrum, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Greater Indiana. "The anti-choice forces are energized by their election gains at the federal level and they will be testing the new leadership of the Indiana Legislature. One anti-choice bill has already been filed in the Senate. More are sure to follow." For more information, call Nissy Stetson at 926-4662, ext. 133, or e-mail her at email@example.com.