Abortion battles

May 24, 1991

Although abortion is legal in this country, a decade of presidential opposition to reproductive rights has produced significant limitations on the ability to obtain an abortion. On Wednesday, the House of Representatives voted to reverse one particularly offensive restriction -- a three-year-old Pentagon policy that prohibits U.S. servicewomen and military dependents overseas from obtaining abortions at military health facilities, even at their own expense. Because these women are often serving in countries where abortion is illegal, the policy in effect denies them any access to a safe, legal abortion, simply because they are serving their country overseas. President Bush, once a strong supporter of a woman's right to decide whether and when to have children, now continues his opposition to reproductive rights by threatening to veto the $292 billion defense authorization bill if it contains the abortion amendment.

The encouraging vote in the House was followed Thursday by a Supreme Court decision that, in effect, tells federally funded family planning clinics that they must censor the medical information they give their clients. The court upheld regulations that prevent these clinics from telling women that abortion is an option and referring them to a place where abortions are performed. (No clinic is allowed to use federal funds for performing abortions.)

The 4,000 family planning clinics affected by the regulations serve more than 4 million primarily low-income women each year -- women who often do not have the knowledge, time or money to seek out information on their own. Thus, for many of them, the court's decision limits access to abortion.

Both of the Pentagon policy and the clinic regulations that the court affirmed began as administrative regulations, not as laws passed by Congress. Both limit reproductive freedom to those women who can afford to buy it.

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