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On Choice, a Wake-up Call

The ban enacted by Congress last week on the procedure known as “partial birth abortion” was unwise and arguably poses a real threat to women’s health. The procedure is an extremely rare, last-resort method, used when a woman needs to terminate a pregnancy at an advanced stage and other methods are deemed too dangerous. Denying physicians this tool is irresponsible. If President Bush signs the bill — as he’s vowed to do — it should be overturned in court.

It’s no secret that the ban was adopted under pressure from the anti-abortion right, which seized on the procedure as a way to arouse popular emotions and generate support for its larger project: ending access to abortion in this country. The healthy majorities that voted for the ban in both houses of Congress are a testimony to the intimidating power of a minority that is out to impose its will on the rest of us.

The passage of the bill ought to be a wake-up call to liberals and moderates in Congress and across the country, who have been lulled into passivity by international security crises and the president’s continuing popularity. Americans continue to support a woman’s right to choose. Showing the “partial birth abortion” ban for what it really is — a stealth assault on the rights of women and all Americans — shouldn’t have been an impossible task. Liberals simply fell asleep on the job.

In particular, the bill ought to stir rethinking within Jewish women’s groups and civil-rights agencies, most of which joined the opposition, if at all, only at the last minute. American Jews are passionately united on the question of abortion rights, as they are on a host of other domestic issues of human rights and social decency. Yet the organizations that claim to represent them in the halls of power have become increasingly focused on Israel to the exclusion of the rest of their mandate. It’s time Jews got their own voice back.

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