Girding for battle

Even as you read this, 181 of this states' most sought-after men and women are settling into their plush chairs in Austin preparing to do the state's business. Since the Legislature is in session for only five months, lawmakers eager to show they're worth the votes that got them there were busy filing bills even before the session started, just to show folks at home how excited they are about fulfilling those campaign promises. This ensures not only that we will see our representatives tackle the arcane issues--such as how to open Texas' electric utilities to competition--but that we will watch them scuffle over those old favorites, such as abortion.

Bills already have been filed by Sen. Jane Nelson, R-Flower Mound, requiring parental consent before a minor can have an abortion, and by Sen. Florence Shapiro, R-Plano, requiring that parents be notified.

With so much anti-abortion politicking going on in Austin, Texans proud to live in the home of Roe vs. Wade may be glad to see a little pro-choice activity here at home. The Greater Dallas Coalition for Reproductive Freedom is sponsoring its annual Roe vs. Wade breakfast in which pro-choice groups and individuals can get together and discuss what can be done to safeguard the right to abortion.

The organization is an all-volunteer coalition of 40 member groups representing 40,000 people in the Dallas area. It brings together organizations as diverse as the Sierra Club, the regional chapter of the ACLU, and several Leagues of Women Voters to work during this legislative session to preserve the reproductive rights of young women in Texas.

"What a lot of politicians don't understand is that 75 percent of the young women who seek abortion services do so with their parents' involvement. There are 25 percent that don't, but they usually have very good reasons," says Diana Philip, ACLU's regional director. "If the family is strong enough, the kid is going to go to the parents for support. If it isn't, it is totally unrealistic to say that [parental consent or notification laws] will help families. I think they would be even more destructive."

The coalition's member organizations played an important role in stopping anti-abortion legislation during the 1997 legislative session, and the organization hopes to play a similar role this year. The breakfast will celebrate the 26th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, honor a local abortion-rights activist whose name can't be released in advance for safety reasons, and raise money to fund this year's agenda.

"Younger people take it for granted that they have reproductive choice, so they are not thinking about the possibility of having it taken away by the Legislature," says Philip. Thirty-one states currently enforce laws that mandate parental involvement in a minor's decision. Although Texas still has not passed such a statute, only 12 of its 254 counties offer abortion services at all, and that already limits women's access to clinics. The proposed legislation could pose insurmountable obstacles to minors, and as seen in other states, could lead to mandatory notification of minors accessing birth control and other family-planning medical services, according to Philip. That, she says, "just does not fit into the reality of adolescents in our society."

--Juliana Barbassa

The Greater Dallas Coalition for Reproductive Freedom's annual Roe vs. Wade Breakfast takes place at 7:15 a.m. Friday in the Malachite Show Room of the Hotel Inter-Continental, 15201 Dallas Parkway. Call (214) 855-9703 for tickets ($25 per person, $250 a table) and further information.

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Juliana Barbassa