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'War on Women' rages, abortion rights advocates say

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Forty years after legalized abortion, a war on women's rights is raging, two former nuns and pro-choice advocates said Tuesday.

Barbara Ferraro and Pat Hussey, the first co-directors of Covenant House, were keynote speakers at WV Free's annual benefit gala. This year's event, "Returning to our roots," commemorated the 40th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court case which legalized abortion.

The Roe decision did not reduce the number of women who sought abortions, but made abortions safe for women, Hussey told the crowd.

Now the increasing number of restrictions on abortion is cause for concern, they said.

"It is our concern now that as more restrictions and abortion bans become law, more women may be maimed or die in the future," Hussey said. "Abortion bans are incompatible with women's health.

"Without reasonable access, women are in danger. Let us make no mistake about that," Hussey said.

Ferraro and Hussey, former nuns, were two of many Catholics who signed their names to an advertisement about abortion that ran in the New York Times in 1984. The ad stated that there was a diversity of opinions about the matter among Catholics and that dialogue was needed. It led to a rift with the Vatican, and ultimately their resignation. They've been outspoken supporters of reproductive justice since then.

The struggle for reproductive justice has not been without casualties, Hussey pointed out.

George Tiller, one of the few doctors who performed late-term abortions, was shot first in 1993 and then shot to death in 2009. Also in 1993, a doctor was killed as he approached his abortion clinic. In 1994 two Massachusetts clinic workers were murdered and five others injured, among other incidents, Hussey said.

Extreme rhetoric -- Bill O'Reilly calling Tiller a "baby killer," for instance -- should not be tolerated, Hussey said.

"We need to examine language and hear what's really being said," Hussey said.

Besides violence and rhetoric, the "War on Women" is being fought with restrictions to abortion, Ferraro said.

In 2011, states enacted 92 anti-abortion resolutions. In 2012, there were another 43 such restrictions.

The bills have names like Women's Right to Know Act and the Women's Health Protection Act but in reality they are barriers to health care, Ferraro said.

One, called the fetal-pain abortion ban that prohibits the procedure after 20 weeks of pregnancy, is similar to an Irish law that led to the death of a young women there, Ferraro said. The woman was in the process of miscarrying the baby but a physician refused to do an abortion.

In 2011, a bill was introduced in South Dakota, then Iowa and Nebraska, that would have made it justifiable homicide to kill abortion doctors, Ferarro said.

"Is there a war on women?" Barbara Ferraro asked. "There sure is a war on women."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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