By LAUREN C. WILLIAMS
WASHINGTON (Jan. 21, 2009)—Activists on both sides of the abortion question will congregate Thursday at the annual March for Life protest in Washington to debate the possible passage of the Freedom of Choice Act.
President Obama, speaking to Planned Parenthood while a candidate, said he would sign the legislation should it pass Congress, and his vow has energized all sides of the issue this year, including those in Maryland.
The FOCA as introduced to Congress in 2007, is umbrella legislation that aims to protect women's health and their right to "to begin, prevent or continue a pregnancy."
"FOCA has definitely energized the Maryland (anti-abortion) movement. We are receiving many more calls and inquiries to our Web site. We feel that the pro-life people are very concerned and ready to take action," said Angela Martin, executive director of Maryland Right to Life.
The act is designed to eliminate the "threats that remain" to Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 Supreme Court abortion rights decision that prompted the annual March for Life. Those threats include possible reversal of the decision and "legislative or administrative policies that make abortion more difficult and dangerous to obtain."
"It ensures Maryland's women, teenagers and poor women in particular, that these services will be available to them every day, every month and every year and not be affected by political whims," said Frances Kissling, 65, former president of Catholics for Choice in Washington.
Consent laws that require minors obtain parental permission before obtaining an abortion aren't designed to provide full knowledge, but to "scare" and misinform, she said.
The Freedom of Choice Act would allow just that—unencumbered reproductive choices, its advocates said.
Anti-abortion activists see it as a license to kill.
"FOCA would eliminate restrictions on abortion nationwide," said Martin, that would include parental consent or waiting periods, for example.
"Waiting periods are there to protect women's health and reflect on the consequences (of an abortion). The 'restrictions' are meant to protect (women)," said Martin.
Proponents of the bill say that it would provide access to family planning services, prevent unintended pregnancies and thus decrease the need for abortion.
FOCA does restrict abortions after the fetus is viable, or can live outside of the woman, which is approximately 24 weeks into the pregnancy, according to a 2008 study published by the Center for Fetal and Neonatal Medicine and the USC Division of Neonatal Medicine.
Maryland's law is lenient—it does not mandate counseling, parental consent, waiting periods or the reporting of abortions. Abortions are reported to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention voluntarily.
In 2005, Maryland had 10,797 reported abortions.
"The most important aspect of a woman's right is to determine her own reproductive health. What's the point of life, liberty and the other things if you have to buckle under someone else's rule," said Anne Hale Johnson, 85, Bethesda, who gave $5,000 to Planned Parenthood last year.
Meanwhile the size of the March for Life continues to grow, from 20,000 people in 1974 to 200,000, according to the group's Web site, in 2006.
As long as abortion remains legal, its opponents will continue to fight, whether it's to attack the root causes of poverty or drugs, or in the legal arena, they said.
Susan Gibbs, communications director for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Washington, said: "We are going to continue to be present. We aren't going to walk away from it—in Maryland and nationally."
Abortion has "spiritual, mental and psychological" involvement, said Gibbs. "We've seen it."
And Martin said: "FOCA violates the conscience rights of those that are opposed to abortion."
Capital News Service contributed to this report.