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Amendment 25 raises sticky issues of privacy, safety and a woman's right to choose 

On Nov. 7, Colorado voters will once again consider a ballot proposal addressing the conditions of availability of abortion in the state -- a regular, bi-annual event courtesy of Fort Collins' Gary Rogers, head of the Colorado Pro-Life Alliance.

In 1998, Rogers sponsored ballot initiatives that would have required parental notice for teenagers seeking abortions and a "partial birth abortion" ban. The parental notice amendment was struck down in August by a federal district court on constitutional grounds, and a Nebraska law similar to the partial birth abortion ban, which did not pass in Colorado, was found unconstitutional by a June 2000 Supreme Court decision.

Proponents argue that Amendment 25, Rogers' most recent proposed legislation which requires a mandatory 24-houring waiting period, specific counseling and arduous reporting by physicians, will simply ensure that "a woman receives all available, accurate and pertinent information to allow her to make an informed decision whether to terminate her pregnancy."

But opponents, including Planned Parenthood, the Colorado Medical Society, the League of Women Voters, the Colorado Nurses Association and the Colorado Gynecological and Obstetrical Association say that's a smoke screen. Amendment 25, they agree, is unnecessary because informed consent is already required by the medical profession, is problematic because it will jeopardize the privacy of physicians who perform abortions, and should be unacceptable because it invites an unprecedented level of government intrusion into private medical decision making.

At the center of the discussion, however, is the ongoing and increasingly heated battle between abortion rights advocates and anti-abortion groups where fingers are pointed and lines are drawn with such fierce divisiveness that the real meaning of Amendment 25 is often obfuscated beneath mountains of rhetoric and emotionally laden personal testimony.


Polar opposites

"It's about the health and safety of women," declares Father Bill Carmody of Security's Holy Family Church, organizer of Life Chain, an ongoing demonstration on West Colorado Avenue protesting abortion activities at the Planned Parenthood clinic there, and an outspoken proponent of Amendment 25.

Carmody contends that the women he counsels who have had abortions and who now firmly take an anti-abortion stance were not properly counseled before taking the step of terminating a pregnancy.

"A common theme among the 70 or 80 women I have counseled is they are not given information on the gestational age of the fetus, they are not informed of parental options, they feel pressured by family, boyfriends and abortion providers," he said. "Many abortions, I feel, are unwanted abortions."

But abortion rights activist Peggy Loonan of Fort Collins, founder of Life and Liberty for Women, sees the efforts behind the proposed legislation in a starkly different light.

"It's all about if we can't overturn Roe v. Wade, then we make [abortion] rare by denying access, mostly to poor women and teenagers," she said. "Isn't this really about trying to stop abortions, no matter what? Any way you possibly can?"

Loonan and others point out that women who go to Planned Parenthood for an abortion have already thought long and hard about their options, and are offered information on risks, complications, options and the procedure itself in the form of a "facts" book that is given to all abortion-seeking clients. Furthermore, the medical profession requires informed consent for all surgical procedures, including abortion.

Carmody contends that Amendment 25 will in no way limit the availability of abortion as an option to women, though he admits he would love to see all abortions outlawed.

But outside of the polarized arguments of these two firmly opposed points of view are more specific concerns raised by the content of the amendment.


Dangerous ground

Denver attorney Pat Steadman, a consultant for Planned Parenthood, asserts that Amendment 25's opponents' claims that doctors will be placed in harm's way by the law is well-founded.

"I've read Amendment 25 very carefully and am intimately familiar with it," he said. "There's nothing in it that protects the physician's privacy. It authorizes criminal prosecutions and civil lawsuits against doctors. The amendment says that a doctor could be sued for performing an abortion without informed consent, and at the same time gives the woman the right to withdraw consent during the procedure. At the least, that's sloppy drafting. At the worst, it's sinister."

Steadman and others are also concerned about the potential for threats and harassment by anti-abortion groups aimed at doctors peforming a legally sanctioned medical procedure.

But perhaps most alarming -- and most difficult to refute by proponents of the bill -- is new data indicating that at least in one state, Mississippi, where similar measures have been put into effect, the number of second trimester abortions has increased by 53 percent among women whose closest abortion provider was in the state.

The implication is that a mandatory 24-hour waiting period and the type of strident counseling that is offered, coupled with the natural ambivalence and distress of women seeking abortion, results not in an overturned decision but a delayed decision that is far more risky to the patient physically, psychologically and emotionally.

Currently, mandatory waiting period or mandatory delay laws are in effect in 14 states.

Statistics show that while 61 percent of Americans believe that first-trimester abortions should be legal for any reason, only 15 percent feel the same about second-trimester abortions. Pro-choicers, right-to-lifers and middle-of-the-roaders alike appear to agree that late abortions are more problematic than early ones.

Some analysts of the study, compiled by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, reason that anti-abortion forces, by increasing the number of second trimester abortions, seek to weaken support for abortion in general, thus proving such laws useful, ultimately, in swaying public opinion to their side.

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