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Archive for Thursday, January 23, 2003

Kansas abortion protesters hail new political climate

January 23, 2003

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— Kansans marching in the nation's capital Wednesday were hopeful about their chances of chipping away at the 30-year-old Roe v. Wade ruling that legalized abortion.

Busloads of anti-abortion demonstrators from across Kansas made the annual protest trek. The difference this year is that Republicans control Congress and the White House, and among their top priorities is passing a ban on late-term abortions.

"Hopefully, we'll accomplish something," said 18-year-old Daniela Lujano, a senior at Wichita's Bishop Carroll Catholic High School.

Fifteen-year-old Miriam Ayres said she had protested at the clinic run by George Tiller, one of few physicians nationwide who performs late-term abortions. The significance of the court ruling's 30th anniversary drew her to Washington.

"Maybe one person, me, being there can make somebody change their mind about having an abortion," said Ayres, a freshman at Bishop Carroll.

Abortion-rights supporters also demonstrated in Washington, where Kim Gandy, president of the National Organization for Women, said, "We will not be the generation that both won and lost reproductive rights in our lifetime."

The Nov. 5 election changed the federal government by putting the U.S. Senate in Republican hands. The change could affect anti-abortion legislation, which already had the backing of President Bush and the Republican-controlled House.

A ban on late-term abortions cleared Congress twice in the 1990s but was vetoed by President Clinton. Now, Republicans expect they will swiftly pass a ban, and Bush promises to sign it. Rep. Todd Tiahrt, R-Kan., said the ban on what critics call "partial-birth" abortion would be easier to pass than other restrictions.

A group of dozens of students from Wichita also got a science lesson from Republican Sen. Sam Brownback, who is pushing for a ban on human cloning in the Senate. He explained the role of DNA "in each of your 10 trillion cells" and said the code would make a book that stands 100 feet taller than the 555-foot Washington Monument.

"The point is, you are fearfully and wonderfully made," Brownback said.

Senate control also has a direct impact on the U.S. Supreme Court, because the Senate would confirm Bush's nominees to the high court.

Thirty years ago Wednesday, the court legalized abortion in the Texas case of Roe v. Wade on a 7-2 vote. Today, the court is split 5-4 in favor of abortion rights. A retirement could change the balance; both sides believe Bush would nominate a replacement who wants to restrict abortion rights.

Efforts to place new restrictions on abortion are less likely at the state level after the election of Gov. Kathleen Sebelius, a Democrat.

Sebelius was among the Legislature's most vocal abortion-rights supporters in the 1980s and 1990s, and she fought for provisions in state law guaranteeing a woman's right to obtain an abortion until a fetus can survive outside the womb.

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