WASHINGTON, January 22 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) - From candlelight vigils to rallies and marches, there are dozens of events across America this week to mark Tuesday’s 40th anniversary of the landmark US Supreme Court ruling, Roe v. Wade, which legalized abortions nationwide and sparked a sharply divisive battle over reproductive rights that continues today.
“The battle’s been hard and it’s been hard fought, almost like trench warfare,” said Troy Newman, president of the pro-life organization Operation Rescue, in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“Abortion is a brutal act of violence that kills a baby every single time, and we’ve come a long way toward moving people’s position down the road, in helping people see that unborn children are not clumps of cells, they’re babies,” he added.
Those who support abortion rights are just as passionate and fervent as Newman and scores of others like him, who believe abortion is wrong and should be illegal in the US.
“I’m not sure why the Operation Rescue folks and the other anti-choice, pro-life people, whatever they want to call themselves these days, still feel like they have anything to say on this issue, but unfortunately they happen to grab the ear of Republican legislators not at the federal level but at the state level to effect change,” said Allendra Letsome, with the National Organization for Women (NOW), in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“This has been going on since 2010 when these really sharp, strongly anti-choice legislators were voted in on the basis of some things that aren’t pro-choice, and they have been really trying to push through anti-women policies,” she added.
The Supreme Court ruling, known as Roe v. Wade, is based on the case of a Texas woman who learned she was pregnant with her third child in 1969 and wanted an abortion. At the time, Texas allowed abortions only in cases of rape and incest, which did not apply to her, and her efforts to obtain an abortion failed.
She ultimately filed suit in a case that came to be known as simply Roe v. Wade, which was appealed all the way to the Supreme Court.
By the time the high court’s ruling legalizing abortion was announced, on January 22, 1973, the woman had already had the child, and later became a supporter of the pro-life movement.
But the ruling divided America into two camps, one that sees abortion as murder that must be stopped, and the other that sees it as a woman’s personal choice that must be supported.
Now, 40 years later, abortion opponents say they have turned their efforts at stopping abortion to local and state action that has chipped away at abortion rights by increasing waiting periods, requiring parental notification and other actions that have slowly reduced the number of abortion clinics in America from 2,186 in 1991 to 660 today, according to Operation Rescue.
“There are five states with only one clinic, so we’ve been winning on the local level, and we really view this as a local fight now, it’s a community-by-community fight,” said Newman.
It’s been an effective strategy so far, with changes to abortion rights enacted in 19 states last year.
In Texas, where Roe v. Wade began, Gov. Rick Perry is calling for a statewide ban on abortions after 20 weeks of gestation, the point at which some say a fetus can feel pain. As of now, states can only ban abortions after 24 weeks.
"Roe v. Wade paved the way for the loss of more than 54 million innocent lives, with more than a million added to that total with each passing year,” Perry said in a statement issued Tuesday.
“In Texas, we've worked hard to strengthen our abortion laws. We will continue working to empower families and protect our children's future, until the day abortion is nothing more than a tragic footnote in our nation's history," Perry added.
“The Supreme Court couldn’t be convinced that slavery was evil, so we believe the Supreme Court will outlaw abortion the day we convince America that abortion is evil, and that will be the day the last abortion clinic in America closes,” Newman said.
But it won’t happen without a fight.
“A right with no access is not a right,” said Letsome. “I’m not talking about ease, I’m not talking about convenience, I’m talking about rights.”
According to an NBC News-Wall Street Journal poll released Tuesday, a majority of Americans – 54 percent – say abortion should be legal all or most of the time, and 44 percent say it should be illegal.
Seventy percent of those polled say they oppose overturning Roe v. Wade.
But the numbers don’t tell the full story, said Karlyn Bowman, a senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a not-for-profit research institution.
Americans, she said, are deeply conflicted about the issue of abortion. Many oppose it personally, but are reluctant to make it illegal for other women.
“Americans really want this to be a deeply considered decision, as (former US President) Bill Clinton said, ‘safe, legal and rare,’” she told RIA Novosti.
“They want people to think twice about this decision, which is why one of the trends we see is that when a woman has been raped or has serious health issues, when the circumstances of the pregnancy are not entirely within her control, then you see strong support for abortion, but when it’s strictly a personal choice, she doesn’t want more children or doesn’t want to marry the father, then that support slips away.”
Many people in the United States are deeply ambivalent about the issue of abortion, she added, but only 17 to 20 percent see it as the single deciding factor when it comes to choosing a political candidate.
“Both sides claim to have public opinion on their side, but in reality, you can’t find a pro-life or a pro- choice majority on either side,” Bowman said.
Unlike other controversial issues such as gay marriage, the opposition to abortion hasn’t eroded over time. Most younger Americans feel just as strongly and passionately as their parents do, she said.
With such conflicting and ambivalent views on abortion, Bowman said, most Americans have pulled away from the emotional arguments, and are leaving the controversy for activists to battle it out.