Al Franken, reproductive rights, and a debate that goes nowhere


This is not news: Both sides of the abortion debate are dug in tighter than a stubborn mule, each fearing any compromise will lead to hell on one side, or a return to the 18th century on the other, and claiming to represent the majority of Americans. And so comes Sen. Al Franken, who on Tuesday spoke before -- and in support of -- the abortion rights group NARAL Pro-Choice America. The occasion was a celebration of Roe V. Wade, and what the Supreme Court decision has meant for reproductive rights in the United States.

Here's part of what he said:

We saw Representative Bart Stupak use the health care bill as a bludgeon, restricting women's health choices in a bill that was meant to expand them.

We watched with frustration as the Supreme Court overturned a century's worth of precedents to further their conservative activist agenda.

We are watching as the Senate continues to block Dawn Johnsen's confirmation to a critical role at the Department of Justice because of her pro-choice views.

And we saw Dr. Tiller murdered at church... AT HIS CHURCH.... murdered for the choice he provided for women.

I want to thank Dr. Sella for being here today, and I want to join you in honoring his memory.

And that's why the work you do at NARAL is indispensible. Because the forces on the other side are persistent, single-minded, and even violent.

A woman's right to choose is never fully won. It must be won anew every day, every year, every Congress, and every generation.

Even though most Americans support abortion rights, even though most Americans understand that no woman ever plans an unwanted pregnancy, that no woman ever thinks she'll have to make such a painful and personal choice, those who would deny that choice press on, undeterred.

In a lot of ways that fight is going to be incremental. In 2007 - after Justice O'Connor's departure, we saw the Roberts Court reject the longstanding precedent that an exception for a woman's health must be a component of any law that restricts abortion rights.

Even when the woman's health includes her reproductive health. That's what Dr. Tiller did so often in his work. Perform abortions on fetuses that would not be viable outside the womb in order to protect a woman's ability to bear children in the future. Ironically, what could be more pro-life?

I fear this Court - and anti-choice advocates - are happy to adopt an incremental strategy that makes it harder for you to marshal your forces. They're happy to keep chipping away, again and again, at abortion rights in a way that the American people might not even notice.

If we're waiting for that one big galvanizing event, that one event that will mobilize progressives to action, I think we have to recognize that that day may never come.

Not until the force of Roe has already been degraded beyond recognition.

So what do we know?

We know that having pro-choice majorities in Congress isn't enough.

That anti-choice legislators - on both sides of the aisle - can and will do whatever they can to force those of us who believe unconditionally in a woman's reproductive rights to choose between two bad outcomes:

Look at what they did, pitting abortion issues against health care expansion - pitting the president's signature legislative goal against a position that he, and we, abhor.

We learned that in the House, a group of anti-choice Democrats wield incredible power. And that in the Senate, a filibuster could only be overcome when anti-choice Democrats imposed humiliating conditions on women who simply want to pay extra for health insurance that covers abortion.

After a year of watching the health care debate unfold, it's clear that the voices of the pro-choice movement are muted in our halls of Congress, to the extent that several Democrats who had previously had 100% ratings with this very organization felt safe in voting for the Stupak amendment.

Now, let me say that there are millions of people in this country who have a sincere objection to abortion, and much of that is based on strongly held religious conviction. And I respect that. In America, we respect each other's religious beliefs. But we are not governed by them.

It's called the "separation of church and state," a phrase which, like "separation of powers," does not appear in the Constitution, but which is created just as clearly in the establishment clause of the First Amendment.

So to those people whose religious conviction leads them to a moral opposition to abortion, I say that's your right, that's your choice. Don't have an abortion. But also, do everything you can to work together with us to diminish the reasons we have abortions

Support comprehensive sex education and access to affordable family planning services. Support funding for maternal child health programs, WIC, and affordable child care so new mothers have security and the resources they need to raise a healthy child.

Oh yeah, and support comprehensive affordable health care for all.

So this is my pledge to you: I will be unwavering in my support for women's choice and women's rights.

(Read his full speech here.)

And here's the press release from Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life, an anti-abortion group. We're posting it as a reminder that these two camps will never, ever see eye to eye.

Minnesota Citizens Concerned for Life (MCCL) denounced plans by Sen. Al Franken to speak at a NARAL Pro-Choice America event in Washington, D.C., today in celebration of Roe v. Wade, the 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision that legalized abortion on demand throughout all nine months of pregnancy.

"Senator Franken should not be celebrating the deadly Roe v. Wade decision as keynote speaker at a NARAL luncheon," said MCCL Executive Director Scott Fischbach. "As Senator Franken rejoices over abortion in Washington today, the majority of Minnesotans oppose abortion on demand, which has resulted in the deaths of 52 million unborn children."

Roe v. Wade is one of the worst examples of judicial activism in the history of U.S. jurisprudence. Seven unelected justices overturned decades of legal precedence in nearly every state, which protected unborn children and their mothers, and established absolute abortion on demand. The wrongly decided ruling was based on a falsehood that the U.S. Constitution contained a "right to privacy" that included the killing of unborn children in the womb.

The results of Roe v. Wade have been tragic. A total of 543,000 unborn children have been killed in Minnesota, according to the Minnesota Department of Health. Women have died needlessly from botched abortions. Many women have been injured from dangerous abortion procedures and by unscrupulous abortionists; some women have been left infertile.

Franken assumed the office of U.S. senator in July 2009 after thousands of voters' ballots had been thrown out in a lengthy judicial battle.

"Senator Franken's strong support of abortion on demand regardless of the reason, regardless of how late in the pregnancy, regardless of the age of the pregnant girl, regardless of coercion by the girl's parents or the baby's father--all of this demonstrates how far out of touch he is with the people of Minnesota," Fischbach added. "Minnesota deserves better than Al Franken."

(Read the full speech here.)

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