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A pro-choice network in New York City is spending thousands of dollars on a gut-wrenching advertising campaign to keep abortion legal.

Catholic bishops have renewed efforts to intimidate politicians among their faithful who support choice.

Pro-life activists are trying to turn anti- abortion violence to an advantage.

It's getting ugly out there.

The debate over abortion is heating up at a time when the American electorate has signaled a desire to take personal choices out of the public arena. Referendums to make late-term abortions illegal were defeated in the only two states in which they were on the ballot, and many candidates who vowed to exchange the social contract with their moral agenda are looking for jobs.

Despite that, pro-life proponents are seizing the moment, either as a last-gasp effort to regain the advantage or, as many in the movement believe, to activate the adrenaline for the final victory lap.

There is ample evidence to support the latter theory.

While carefully distancing themselves from extremists, some pro-life spokesmen suggest that the terrorists in their midst really are good people driven to bad deeds by the evil of the persons they terrorize or kill.

We are told that efforts to curb the constitutional right to harass and abuse other people exercising their constitutional rights will only result in greater violence.

These arguments pass for logic in many circles.

At a time when the pro-life forces are defending hate-inspiring rhetoric against those who believe that abortion is not just a legal right but also a moral, ethical and responsible choice, it is important to define some terms.

Some in the pro-life movement are pushing the life envelope to such extremes that women on the pill are being called baby killers. Anti-abortion advocates, as one Catholic theologian put it, are confusing potential life with real life and comparing pre-cerebral embryos and fetuses with real people.

That thinking is as mainstream as the U.S. Congress. Rep. Christopher H. Smith (R-N.J.), an outspoken opponent of birth control funding in U.S. foreign aid bills, defines birth control pills that prevent egg implantations in a woman's womb as "abortifacients." He and his supporters define women who use contraception as abortionists. He has called RU-486 a "baby pesticide."

The assault on abortion rights obscures the fact that a powerful faction in the pro-life movement opposes any artificial birth control. Some do so openly. Others who admit that contraception is a powerful tool for reducing abortions naively believe that family planning as we practice it could survive in a society that makes abortion illegal.

Contraception use and abortion are widespread in other countries, even where they are banned. But the toll on women is extreme. Each year, 200,000 women around the world die as a result of illegal abortions, according to the World Health Organization. Inadequate birth control leaves millions more women with unwanted pregnancies, and thousands dead in childbirth.

People who call themselves pro-life have succeeded in reducing the U.S. appropriation for foreign family planning aid in the past decade and have supported a gag rule that prohibits family planning agencies from dispensing information on abortion.

The attacks have not been limited to the foreign-born. Women in this country have been denied access to abortion and contraception, directly through denial of funds or indirectly by intimidation of contraceptive manufacturers and reproductive health service providers.

When manufacturers are afraid to develop contraceptives, when doctors are threatened or killed, when women are terrorized at clinics, when politicians are restricted from voting their convictions or responding to their constituents' wishes, when, for all practical purposes, choice is eliminated, those who "choose life" can be excused if they claim victory.

A memorial service for Dr. Barnett A. Slepian will be held Sunday at 7:30 p.m. in Temple Beth Am, Williamsville. Rabbi Michael Feshbach and Cantor Barbara Osteld will conduct the service at which the slain doctor's family, colleagues and friends will pay homage to his life and his service to women in caring for all their reproductive needs. The choir of the Unitarian Universalist Church of Buffalo will participate.

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