Beverly Times Article, July 5, 1989

Court Ruling Ignites State Abortion Battle; Pro-Choice Activists Swarm Statehouse in Angry Protest (main article)

Both Sides See Tough Fight Ahead (local article)

by Lisa Kosan, Times Staff

Margaret Coleman of Manchester will wear the letter “A” on her shorts now that the Supreme Court has limited abortion rights.

“My ‘A’ is for abortion, the safe and legal abortion I had,” said Coleman, a vocal pro-choice advocate. “It’s the 20th century equivalent of the ‘A’ for adultery to remind people that at one time, adultery was looked down on by society.”

Coleman was among those on both sides of the abortion controversy who waited anxiously last week for the ruling in Webster vs. Reproductive Health Services.

Monday, the nation’s highest court ruled to uphold Missouri law, giving states new authority to limit a woman’s right to abortion.

While the justices stopped short of overturning Roe vs. Wade, the 1973 landmark decision legalizing abortion, they ruled that the states could limit public funds for abortions not necessary to save a woman’s life. The court also upheld in a 9-0 vote a preamble to the Missouri law that stated the conviction that human life begins at conception.

In a nation where an average 1.6 million abortions are performed annually, members of the pro-life celebrated yesterday’s decision.

“It’s a small step in the right direction,” said John Rankin of Manchester, a minister who heads the pro-life New England Christian Action Council. “The decision empowers us tremendously as we go to the state Legislature to file in the fall a special act to put a non-binding referendum question on the 1990 ballot.

“It’s given us powerful support.”

The New England Christian Action Council lobbied unsuccessfully last summer to place a multiple-choice question on the state ballot asking voters when they believed but began.

“The justices also affirmed the preamble in the Missouri law that declared each human being begins at the moment of conception and that human life is protectable under the Constitution,” Rankin said. “That was our No. 1 issue.”

Rankin said that although Roe vs. Wade, which prohibits states from barring abortion in the first trimester (roughly 12 weeks) of pregnancy, is still on the federal books, the issue has finally come to the local level.

“Now we’re approaching a level playing field,” he said.Members of the pro-life community have to work on alternatives, have to give people the information they need to make informed choices and have to blanket the Legislature with bills to protect the life of the unborn, Rankin said [I doubt I said that — language I have never used, and in that my sole legislative initiative was always the simple definition of human life].

Rankin said that his group has already organized a non-blockade strategy in front of abortion clinics to “escalate the awareness of our presence” [sounds like a conflated quote using language not my own]. The point is not to block the clinic, as do members of the pro-life Operation Rescue, but to “ask compelling questions with our signs.”

“We still have a lot of work to do if we’re going to win,” Rankin said. “But at least we’re at a better level than we were before” …

Coleman of Manchester said she fears the weight of the pro-choice movement will be passed to the next generation of women and men who will have to continue to fight for personal rights.

“This will require continued consciousness-raising on the part of the people who thought it was always a woman’s business,” she said. “It has to become an issue of the state and the country. We have to talk about it more and those of us who have had abortions must use ourselves as examples.”

Coleman said she and other pro-choice people disillusioned by the political system are ready for more drastic measures.

“Most women who have gone at this rationally are ready for a little bit of civil disobedience,” she said. “We have to put our bodies on the line.”

And until that time, Coleman will attach an “A” to her clothes. “My ‘A’, it’s for abortion,” she said. “I had an abortion during the time of Roe. vs. Wade and I don’t consider myself a criminal.”

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