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Only in America, abortion wars sour Supreme Court battle
Sun Jul 24, 6:42 PM ET
Pro-choice women protest U.S. President George W. Bush's nominee for the Supreme Court John G. Roberts Jr. in Union Square 20 July 2005 in New York City. Viewed from abroad, the United States' Thirty Years War over abortion, currently injecting venom into the fight over a vacant seat on Supreme Court, often seems unfathomable.(AFP/Getty Images/File/Mario Tama)
Viewed from abroad, the United States' Thirty Years War over abortion, currently injecting venom into the fight over a vacant seat on Supreme Court, often seems unfathomable.
An issue that turns elections, frames political careers and cleaves US society, abortion has powered decades of trench warfare in the courts, only now and then erupting into national view.
The spark for the latest firestorm: President George W. Bush's decision to choose conservative judge John Roberts as his first pick for the Supreme Court, to replace retiring icon Justice Sandra Day O'Connor.
Pro-abortion rights advocates are outraged, since Roberts' appointment threatens to whittle down the 6-3 majority on the court favoring the landmark 1973 Roe v Wade judgement legalizing abortion.
Roberts is on record as saying the case was improperly decided, and abortion rights advocates fear his confirmation by the Senate could be the first step towards overturning one of the key rulings in US Supreme Court history.
"The stakes could not be higher," the American Civil Liberties Union warned hours after Roberts was nominated last week, noting a key abortion case on parental notification is due to come before the court later this year.
Every year, hundreds of thousands of "Pro-Life" demonstrators brave frigid January temperatures to march through Washington, holding gory pictures of aborted half-formed foetuses, to mark what is for them the dark anniversary of Roe v Wade.
Abortion clinics throughout the United States are frequently targeted by demonstrators, in previous hot periods of the abortion wars, staff have been hassled, followed, and in rare cases, murdered.
"Pro-choice" advocates accuse those trying to outlaw the practise of risking the lives of women, and of wanting to enforce government control over women's bodies.
But why has abortion become the divisive issue poisoning US politics, but not had anywhere near the impact in other westernised, democracies?
Nancy Northup, president of the Center for Reproductive Rights, a pro-abortion group, blames America's radical 'religious right', the conservative corps of politically active evangelical Christian groups.
"It is because the base of the anti-choice movement in the United States is a religious right base," she said.
"American religious culture is different than Europe's religious culture and we have a very strong religious right here in the United States which has become highly political.
Conservative leaders have often used abortion as a political 'wedge' issue, to rally sympathetic voters, and castigate liberal opponents, as right-of-center thought has risen to dominate US politics over the last 20 years.
But conservatives have fumed that despite placing standard bearers in the White House and atop Congress, they have never seized control of the Supreme Court, and a chance to overturn Roe v Wade.
Many conservatives see the court, as populated either by liberals named by Democratic presidents, or Republican-appointed judges who turned out to be a sore disappointments for their movement.
"We are paralysed in America to do anything about this until this court is overturned," said Thomas Glessner, of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates.
"We are going to have this battle until it is settled correctly ... there is a strong religious and moral ethic in our country to do something about abortion."
Opinion surveys show that a plurality of Americans, usually around 60 percent, oppose overturning Roe v Wade, though partisans on both sides cite data supporting their particular view.
Anti-abortion activists argue the practice is not just cruel, and should be unlawful -- but is inconsistent with the founding ideals of the United States.
"The Declaration of Independence talks about inalienable rights endowed by our creator on all human beings including the right to life," said Glasser.
Conservatives argue that because the country is a Republic, legislators, and not judges should decide issues such as abortion.
"We aren't to be governed by a body of unelected lifetime appointed officials, which the Supreme Court is, we are to be governed by our representatives," Glasser said.
Some people argue Roe v Wade was improperly decided, owing to its legal reasoning that banning abortion would infringe privacy rights enshrined in the Constitution.
"I think clearly there has always been some legal quarrel over it, and debate in the academic law literature, but what keeps it alive as a political issue is the very religious base of the movement," said Northup.
The abortion question in many European countries has been resolved through legislatures -- not through the highest constitutional court.
The 'will of the people' therefore seems less susceptible to be challenged -- than a Supreme Court which half the country seems not to trust.
by alfayoko2005 | 2005-07-26 07:21