With the abortion issue figuring so prominently on CNN these days, the Charlotte branch of the National Organization for Women (NOW) hopes this year's annual Roe v. Wade march draws a much stronger turnout on Sunday than in previous years.
NOW and other abortion-rights supporters are expected to converge in front of the Charles R. Jonas Federal Building, 401 Trade St., at 3pm, to commemorate the decision that legalized abortion in all 50 states. But this year, that 1973 court case is not the only thing on the minds of reproductive-rights supporters: As Samuel Alito Jr.'s appointment to the US Supreme Court seems imminent, some worry the Bush appointee will accelerate the high court's rightward drift.
"With the Bush administration pushing back at us so hard with Roe v. Wade, we feel like we need to take to the streets," said Cindy Thomson, the local NOW chapter's leader. This will be the third consecutive year abortion-rights activists have marched in Charlotte; previous years have included lower-profile events such as panel discussions and even poetry slams.
As of press time, the Senate had not voted on Alito's nomination, but by most indications he will likely get the nod. The public seems split over Alito, according to a CNN/USA Today/Gallup Poll conducted earlier this month. About 49 percent of Americans believe Alito should be confirmed; 56 percent say the Senate should reject his nomination if he would vote to overturn Roe v. Wade.
During last week's questioning, Alito told senators that his 1985 assertion that abortion is not a constitutional right was a "true expression" of his views at that time. But the judge said he would approach the question today with "an open mind." Alito also told lawmakers that he values Roe v. Wade as precedent, but he wouldn't say the case is settled law.
That concerns people like NOW member Nancy Dollard. "Even though he said he upholds precedent, it doesn't mean that if a new case comes forward before the Supreme Court, he wouldn't rule differently," said Dollard. "His rulings have shown he's very willing to take steps to eliminating [abortion rights]."
Dollard cites as examples cases such as Planned Parenthood v. Casey, in which Alito wrote in favor of requiring married women to tell their husbands of their intent to get an abortion. As an attorney in the US Justice Department, Alito drafted a memo supporting the eventual overturning of Roe. He also wrote that certain methods of birth control cause abortion -- a hot topic among local reproductive rights advocates worried about access to emergency contraception. (Last April, Creative Loafing wrote of one Charlotte woman's difficulty obtaining a prescription at Presbyterian Urgent Care for the so-called "morning-after pill.")
"We're certainly looking forward to a filibuster," Dollard said.
With three clinics in Charlotte offering abortions, women in Mecklenburg County have more access than most women in the US. Eighty-seven percent of US counties have no abortion provider, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America. Hence, cities such as Charlotte draw women from far beyond their borders, Thomson said.
NOW's march is one of several Charlotte-area events organized by abortion-rights groups to commemorate Roe. Local members of Planned Parenthood and NARAL are planning several house parties. But the march is expected to be the most visible.
Advocates are expecting a bigger turnout than last year's march, which drew only about 30 people, Dollard estimated. That's not much more than 10 percent of Charlotte NOW's paid membership of 225. All total, NOW has about 1,900 members in North Carolina.
Thomson acknowledged liberal groups such as NOW don't have a very high profile locally, and she ventured a guess why. "Sometimes, I think it's kind of a Southern-culture thing. A lot of Southerners aren't comfortable with being loud and in-your-face," said Thomson, who's from Charlotte. "Once you get used to being out there, then you're comfortable."