If President George W. Bush ’68 is re-elected in November, there is a large chance Roe v. Wade will be overturned, Kate Michelman, president of the National Abortion Rights Action League, said Wednesday.
Michelman spoke Wednesday at the Yale Law School about “current threats” to the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision, what it means to be pro-choice, and the importance of individual activism. About 125 local residents, Yale students and faculty attended.
Michelman said the president has favored Supreme Court Justices Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas, the two most vocal opponents of Roe v. Wade, the case which legalized abortion. Now, she said, the Supreme Court has had no vacancies for nine years. The president, she said, will probably have the opportunity to appoint at least one, and probably three, new justices. Who Bush appoints will affect law and policy, she said.
“Roe v. Wade is a legal decision — but at its heart, it is an entirely human story, one that is repeated by women all over America every single day,” Michelman, who also spoke at a Trumbull College Master’s Tea Wednesday, said.
She cited several cases of women whose abilities to obtain abortions were, in her opinion, stalled by current laws.
One was that of a ten-year-old girl in Mississippi who, Michelman said, was impregnated by a rapist. The girl’s family had to travel many hours to find an abortion clinic. State law mandated that once they reached the hospital, they wait 24 hours to attend a lecture discouraging the girl from getting an abortion. The family could not afford a motel, Michelman said, and that night, slept in a car in the parking lot in 100-degree weather.
“This [case] is not hypothetical,” she said. “This is not if the Supreme Court falls [if its vacancies are filled by conservatives]. This is not if President Bush is re-elected. This is the law of the land today and it is only the beginning.”
Michelman said Bush has attempted to threaten “women’s right to choose” with laws such as The Unborn Victims of Violence Act. He has also, she said, shifted funds away from contraceptive programs in favor of “unproven abstinence-only programs.”
“He is the first president in American history to criminalize abortion, and the first president to sign a law to send those doctors [giving abortions] to prison,” she said.
Michelman also spoke about the personal experience that convinced her to become a pro-choice activist.
“It was the searing, humiliating experience I had with a pre-Roe v. Wade abortion,” she said.
Some students said they were very impressed by Michelman.
“I’m very pro-choice, but I appreciated the fact that she was respectful of pro-life activists and of the different opinions in the room,” said Tara Neavins, a post-doctoral fellow in psychiatry. “I’d heard before that she was a very angry, militant sort, but I didn’t find that all.”
Liz Jordan ’06 said Michelman’s speech reinforced her own beliefs but also emphasized topics that were new to Jordan.
“She made it very obvious that the situation is much more threatening to women’s reproductive rights than I was aware,” Jordan said.
Michelman’s visit was sponsored by NARAL Pro-Choice America, Reproductive Action League at Yale, Medical Students for Choice, NARAL Pro-Choice Connecticut, Yale Law Women, Health Professions Students for Choice and Office for Women in Medicine. NARAL members at the speech, as well as Michelman, promoted a pro-choice rally taking place in Washington, D.C. on April 25.