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Confronting the Ghosts of Slavery's Past and Reproductive Choice's Future

This column originally appeared as part of the Way of Politics series for the Democracy Cell Project, an IRS-approved 501(c)(3) created by former members of Kerry-Edwards 2004 blog team. The Way of Politics attempted to explore the intersection of religion, spirituality, and politics from a contemporary Deistic or secular and spiritual perspective.

Tom Delay's House of Representatives passed legislation on Wednesday night that foreshadows the future of reproductive rights in any era after Roe v. Wade is overturned. The bill, the Child Interstate Abortion Notification Act, would make it a Federal crime for any adult to accompany a minor across state lines in order to have an abortion without parental consent.

As Sheryl Gay Stolberg wrote in the April 28, 2005 edition of The New York Times, in a story entitled "House Passes Bill Tightening Parental Rule for Abortions":

"The bill, intended to prevent minor girls from going to different states to circumvent more restrictive laws in their home states, applies to adults who accompany girls 17 and under. It also, for the first time, requires doctors who perform abortions on under-age girls to comply with state notification laws, and in some cases to notify the girl's parents in person. Violators could face a $100,000 fine and a year in jail.

"The bill also imposes a 24-hour waiting period for young women who travel to another state for an abortion, in some cases even if they are accompanied by their parents."

In the aftermath of the 2004 Presidential Election, several pundits suggested that Pro-Choice advocates resign themselves to the prospect of Roe v. Wade being overturned by a future Supreme Court, and instead focus on protecting reproductive choice on the State level. The House's passage of this kind of Bill, however, suggests that in a post-Roe era, some States will not be content to simply bar most, if not all, legal abortions.

These States will likely also attempt to inhibit the freedom of women to travel to other States where more permissive laws might apply or force women to carry their home State's abortion laws with them when they travel to another. According to New York Congressman Jerrold Nadler, this is exactly what the current House Bill is attempting to impose:

"It would in effect make the young girl carry the laws of her state on her back wherever she goes."

From my point of view, this would represent an unacceptable curtailment of the right of women to travel.

It would further restore luster to an archaic notion, first challenged in the pre-Civil War period, and later during the Civil Rights struggle, in which a person's ultimate rights were limited to those granted by the State Constitution and Legislature in which they were born as in the instance of Negros born into slavery in the South, who then attempted to escape to the free North, but found themselves instead subject to the terms of the infamous Fugitive Slave Act of 1850.

Legislation like that passed by Tom Delay's House of Representatives on Wednesday night will not dramatically curtail the number of abortions.

It will only, over time, create greater and greater friction between the States, and lead to the kind of dangerous tensions between Americans not seen since the end of the Civil Rights struggle, and the Civil War.

The educational resources and contraceptive technologies exist today to dramatically reduce the number of unnecessary abortions in America. It is only the obstinate resistance of allegedly "pro-life" activists that is preventing this breakthrough from taking place. If they truly want to reduce the number of abortions, then they need to end attempts to impose their shame- and guilt-based religious ideology on Americans who see sexuality through either a more holistic or realistic lens.

If our concern is truly for the preservation and dignity of life, be it human life or the life of every other creature for whom God created this planet whose continued existence is threatened by human overpopulation, and upon whom our own continued existence as a species may be somehow dependent, in ways that we cannot glimpse today then the choice of conscious parenthood, of contraception and rare and legal abortion, is the enlightened choice for a twenty-first century America.

Matthew Carnicelli, © 2005. All rights reserved.
Originally published on May 1, 2005, as part of The Way of Politics series.