"People are starting to see the crucial nature of this issue," says Hollie Hinton, vice president of action for the Cincinnati Chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW). "I get calls daily. We can't ignore it anymore."
Kathy Helmbock, spokeswoman for the chapter, is a veteran of the women's movement, joining NOW in 1972. She says women must take action to defend their right to choose, before the composition of the sharply divided Supreme Court changes.
"Roe vs. Wade hangs by a thread," she says. "If any of (the pro-choice justices) should retire, Bush will appoint a judge that is opposed to women's rights."
Since last summer Hinton and Helmbock have been preparing for the April 25 March for Women's Lives in Washington, D.C. Organizers have especially focused on college campuses and a Spanish language outreach.
"I want as many people as possible to know that they are absolutely included in this message," Hinton says.
A new federal ban on partial-birth abortions is likely to provide the next test case for the Supreme Court. Hinton's main frustration with the law is its medical inaccuracy, she says.
"It takes no consideration for the life of the woman," she says.
She and Helmbock say the ban has language vague enough to ban any second-trimester abortion. Helmbock says the very title used to describe the procedure is "their language," the language of the opposition.
The medical term for partial birth abortion is "dilation and extraction," or D&X. It is the safest means of abortion for a woman in the second trimester and the best means of preserving her future ability to bear children, Helmbock says. Less than 1 percent of abortions use D&X, and the procedure is usually employed in situations of medical necessity, she says.
The fight over this particular procedure is largely a new version of the original debate.
"If you believe life begins at conception, then abortion is not for you," Helmbock says. "It's a basic right, dependent entirely upon an individual's idea of when life begins. We believe that women are intelligent beings that can make their own decisions."
The crucial issue is the safety of the women involved and accurate information, allowing people to "make their own decisions based on correct information," Helmbock says.
Hinton, who works for Planned Parenthood in Mount Auburn, is optimistic about keeping abortion legal.
"Statistics still show that the majority of Americans are pro-choice," she says.
But she doesn't believe the dialogue should close down.
"With regards to compromise, the minute we stop talking, you're on dangerous ground," Hinton says. "You need to keep the lines of communication open. There's always room for compromise."
Helmbock remembers the controversy in its infancy and the reality of abortion faced by many women before Roe vs. Wade.
"It was an extremely horrifying and frightening experience," she says. "This is like ancient history to almost everyone but those who lived it. It could happen again."
Helmbock reflects on violence in the pro-life movement -- the bombings of abortion clinics and the threats received by both medical professionals and women seeking help.
"We don't try to kill someone who disagrees with us," she says.
Helmbock dismisses the assertion that abortion is a form of infanticide.
"It isn't an infant yet," she says. "I've been reading their literature for years. They haven't changed their tune. They're equating an embryo, a zygote, a fetus, as a grown person, giving them the same rights as women -- sometimes more."
The mission of both Planned Parenthood and NOW is not only to support a woman's right to choose but also to support her choice, whatever it might be, according to Hinton.
"We support women who want to continue unwanted pregnancies and women who choose abortion," she says. "We believe in freedom of choice for everyone. If that's the decision you make we want to help you in the best and safest way possible. It's important to know that we are pro-family and pro-choice."
Signs of the movement to defend abortion are increasingly visible to commuters downtown. Supporters of reproductive freedom have taken to the streets with progressive signing -- bearing a message in the form of large signs displayed over several hundred feet and straight to the point: "March for Women's Lives."
"We had one or two people give us the hostile finger," Helmbock says.
The last sign in the progression calls for drivers to "Honk for Choice."
Participants distribute fliers emblazoned purple and gold, the colors of the Suffragettes.
NOW and Planned Parenthood have organized charter buses for the national march, with a fare of $50 per person or $20 for students.
"It's very economical for people," Hinton says. "If anyone comes to us in great financial need, we will work it out for them."
Hinton has been out of her office more than usual lately, visiting businesses, asking to post fliers or put sign-up sheets for the march in break rooms.
"I haven't had one 'no' yet," she says.
"It's now or never," Helmbock says. ©
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