Both sides refuse to compromiseSteve Hammer

Nikki Cook wasn't looking to get into a political argument last week when she was driving her car on the Southside during afternoon rush. But she did. Abortion is the No. 1 issue that divides people these days.

At a stoplight near Raymond and Shelby streets, the single mom encountered a group of anti-abortion protestors waving a Pentecostal flag and displaying huge poster-sized photographs of aborted fetuses.

"My 3-year-old son saw this and asked me, 'Mommy, what's that?'" she said.

"It was disgusting and nasty. They had 4-by-6-foot posters of dead babies, on both sides of the road and in the median. So I stop and confront them and asked them who they are to judge. They said, 'God made babies.' I asked them, 'So did Satan make abortion doctors?'"

The group refused to identify which church they were from. After some more debate, Cook called the police and reported them as a traffic hazard. The cops apparently dispersed the protesters.

"You have your opinions and your choices, but don't show aborted fetuses to kids. Do they show people getting their heads cut off in Iraq on the TV news?" she said. "This was horrible."

Cook said she believes in adoption as a first option but, also, like most Americans, supports a woman's right to terminate an unwanted pregnancy.

The trouble is, extremists on both sides of the debate have taken an already emotional issue and made it the only issue on which politicians can be judged. Are you for killing babies, or against it? Do you support reproductive rights, or are you an anti-feminist Taliban member?

It's poisoned the public debate in this country, has allowed demagogues like George W. Bush to siphon votes while doing nothing on the issue, and is now about to destroy 200 years of precedent in the United States Senate.

It's yet another power grab by the Republicans, but it's more than that. It's an assault on the rights of all Americans, no matter what their views on abortion would be.

I blame the Supreme Court and its decision in Roe v. Wade all those years ago. As an astute piece in The New York Times pointed out last week, individual states could have come to compromises without the decision. While the individual debates would have been heated, in the end they would be regarded as legitimate, because elected officials would have made them.

It's going to get worse. Activist judges on the right, such as the ones Bush has appointed, want to overturn Roe v. Wade and roll back the clock to the days of back-alley abortions and worse.

There's ample precedent for governments getting involved in family planning, and it's not pretty. In Communist Romania, women were required to bear five children. Monitors in the workplace examined women monthly and assessed penalties against those not having enough kids.

On the other side is China, which sterilizes women and performs forced abortions on women wanting more than one child.

I'm afraid that America is headed in one of those directions unless there is some courageous leadership shown by someone. It ain't gonna be the White House, the judges or Congress, though.

My own personal views are mixed on the situation, as I think most Americans' are. I'm an unapologetic liberal Democrat, but I'm against abortion in most cases. But I'm unwilling to have the government decide who's eligible for abortions and who's not.

It'd be like the draft back in the Vietnam War. Rich people like George W. Bush or Bill Clinton pulled strings to stay out of combat while poor people got shot by Vietcong soldiers because they didn't have any power.

You'd have rich women getting abortions and poor women having even more unwanted kids.

Abortion is the No. 1 issue that divides people these days. Without abortion, and his all-talk, no-action position on it, no way Bush wins and no way John Kerry loses.

There is, however, one courageous voice in the wilderness trying to reach a compromise on the issue and it's someone you'd least expect to be a moderate.

Former first lady Hillary Clinton recently gave a speech in which she said some amazing and undisputedly true things.

During the 1990s, when her husband's administration expanded education on reproductive issues, and allowed contraception as one of the options available to doctors, the abortion rate fell consistently.

Now, with a supposed "pro-life" president in office, abortion rates are skyrocketing in some states. Why? The president is not allowing adequate information on family planning to be given to those most at risk of unwanted pregnancy.

The goal should be zero abortions; I agree with Mrs. Clinton on that. But we'll never get there if contraception, especially emergency contraception, prenatal care and good medical advice aren't available.

There's also the issue of health insurance companies refusing to cover birth control drugs, an issue that strikes working-class people in the wallet.

"I know the difference that good information, good education and good health care can make in empowering women and girls to make good decisions for themselves," Sen. Clinton said, and she's right.

But we're not going to get it from our do-nothing president and our do-even-less Congress.

Until that happens, radicals sporting posters of fetuses will still pollute our streets and some will keep bombing clinics.

This sure doesn't feel like a united group of states, does it?


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