NARAL president Kate Michelman said that while the access to abortion is not yet in jeopardy, state and federal regulations enacted in recent years are beginning to encroach on the practice. "We're not losing the war, but the other side's gaining ground," Michelman said. "... But this right will survive because the alternative is unthinkable." The 25th anniversary of the Roe v. Wade decision will come on January 21., a date on which NARAL releases its annual survey on the state of abortion in the US.
Eleven states enforce two restrictions on abortion, 12 states enforce one restriction and 11 states do not restrict abortion, the NARAL survey found. Michelman said the pro-life movement has shifted focus from working toward an outright ban on abortion to incrementally whittling away at the legal-standing of the practice. NARAL said the 1992 Supreme Court decision in Planned Parenthood v. Casey allowed certain restrictions even while upholding Roe, leading to many states passing restrictions such as mandatory waiting periods.
Speaking of Planned Parenthood, the Planned Parenthood Federation (PPFA) announced on Tuesday that a coalition of pro-abortion religious leaders will meet to commemorate the 25th anniversary of the legalization of abortion January 16-25 as a counterpoint to the majority of US religious leaders who are pro-life.
Dubbing the event "A Week of Faith in Choice," PPFA president Gloria Feldt said the Planned Parenthood Pro-Choice Religious Network is meant to show Americans that not all members of various religions are uniformly opposed to abortion. "Thousands of American clergy and millions of religious Americans believe in a woman's right to choose when and whether to have children," said Feldt. "In fact, mainstream clergy have been long-time advocates for improved access to family planning services and for safe, legal abortion." Reverend Tom Davis, chair of the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board said, "'A Week of Faith in Choice' provides an opportunity for pro-choice religious Americans to gather as one and express their gratitude and support for a woman's right to choose."
The conference is co-sponsored by PPFA and the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice which includes groups such as Catholics for a Free Choice, the Women's League for Conservative Judaism, and Presbyterians Affirming Reproductive Options, and 35 others. The coalition claims 2,000 members. Coalition president Rev. Katherine Hancock Ragsdale told a telephone news conference that the commemoration would "raise the visibility of the truth that religious people, religious denominations, and faith groups are pro-choice."
Cardinal Ortega, the first Catholic prelate to appear on Cuban TV since shortly after the 1959 revolution, touched on two of the most sensitive issues surrounding the January 21-25 visit -- human rights and the Holy Father's prominent role in bringing down Communism in Eastern Europe -- but in a way designed to allay the government's fears. He portrayed the Holy Father's role in Poland not as that of an anti-Communist, but as that of a patriot offended by his country's subjection to the Soviet Union in the wake of World War II -- which Poles "felt as something that damaged their nationality, their patriotism."
He also noted that Pope John Paul has historically opposed the excesses of capitalism and materialism which have exacerbated the problem of poverty in the former Warsaw Pact countries. "The Pope believes ... in liberty understood in a Christian way," Cardinal Ortega said. That does not mean liberty "to not be guided or oriented by anybody," he added, but rather liberty to seek the truth.
Meanwhile, Cuba's ambassador to the Vatican told reporters in Rome on Tuesday that the Holy Father is free to speak on any subject during his visit. "The Pope can say anything he wants in Cuba," Ambassador Hermes Herrera said. "Cuba did not say to the Pope 'you can come but you can't talk about this or that.'"
In a related story, Cuba's ambassador to the Holy See, Hermes Herrera, has sharply denied reports that a hidden microphone has been discovered in the rooms where Pope John Paul II will stay during his visit to the island nation next week.
At a press conference in Rome yesterday, the Cuban ambassador pointed out that the Holy Father will be staying at the residence of the apostolic nuncio in Havana throughout the term of his visit. He also said that his government had not received any protest from the Holy See, or any indication that Vatican officials were concerned about surveillance. And he said that Cuban-Americans living in Miami were responsible for concocting the story.
The Spanish daily El Pais had reported earlier this week that a microphone had been found in a religious residence where the Pope would be staying during one stop on his pastoral visit. The Vatican has refused to comment on the story.
"Hatred continues to bloody the welfare of the African lands," the Pope told a group of several thousands pilgrims who had gathered in St. Peter's square. He said that "In Algeria the massacres have not stopped, claiming the lives of women, the aged, and children." And an attack on a convent in Rwanda, the killing of five nuns and two lay people on January 8-- in an attack which left other nuns wounded-- prompted the Holy Father to say that such atrocities shock "the conscience of all humanity." He expressed the hope that such horrors would prompt "sentiments of repentance, pardon, and finally peace."
Speaking directly to a group of Spanish pilgrims, the Pope mentioned his sorrow over the news of recent terrorist attacks by the Basque separatist group ETA.
"These acts of violence, which express a culture of death, have no justification, and endanger the future for an entire people," the Pope said.