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Two John Ashcrofts; One 25 Year Record Against Women’s Rights

WASHINGTON, DC – The John Ashcroft presented to the Senate Judiciary Committee and the John Ashcroft the women’s rights movement has known for over 20 years are not the same man. “I should know,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. “As Missouri’s Attorney General, Ashcroft filed suit against the National Organization for Women (NOW) in 1978, when I was NOW’s president.” Ashcroft charged NOW with federal anti-trust violations and attempted to break the ERA convention boycott of unratified states. In the Judiciary Committee hearings last week, when asked by Senator Herb Kohl (D-WI), he led people to believe his purpose was simply to defend the tourism business in Missouri.

“His willingness to use the law and Missouri tax dollars to launch a three-year unsuccessful fight against NOW and the ERA all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court foreshadows how far he will go to fight and deny women’s rights,” continued Smeal. “His utter lack of understanding of freedom of political speech and the right to take political action to achieve social justice exemplifies a track record where his right-wing ideology prevails over his legal judgment.”

For over 20 years Ashcroft has attacked a woman’s right to abortion. “This is a man who in 1999 pushed an abortion ban (the Missouri Infant Protection Act) yet told us last week that Roe is the settled law of the land,” said Smeal. This Act would also have allowed the use of force against abortion doctors with its “justifiable defense” provision. At the time, Ashcroft urged Governor Mel Carnahan to sign what he called an “important bill.” When Carnahan vetoed the bill he explicitly noted this defense provision and called it “outrageous.”

Ashcroft’s support of the Infant Protection Act is all the more troubling in light of our 2000 National Clinic Violence Survey that reveals one in five of this nation’s abortion clinics experienced severe violence. In the past six years, severe violence at clinics has dropped from a high of 52 percent in 1995 to 20 percent in 2000. This drop occurred due to the 1994 federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act (FACE), the Justice Department’s enforcement of that law, and the concerted efforts of pro-choice groups nationwide.

We fear Ashcroft’s confirmation will send the wrong message to anti-abortion extremists. We note that Timothy Dreste, a Missouri anti-abortion extremist convicted under FACE and who served in the Missouri Republican State Central Committee under Ashcroft’s leadership, attended Sunday’s notorious White Rose Banquet wearing an Army of God sticker. That banquet is an annual gathering of convicted felons and their supporters with the stated purpose of celebrating anti-abortion violence.

While attending Sunday’s White Rose Banquet, some convicted felons – including a bomber, an arsonist, and violators of FACE – were encouraged by the Ashcroft nomination. In their words:

    “John Ashcroft is probably the only good man that has been appointed to a Cabinet position.” – Matthew Trewhella, leader of the Milwaukee, Wisconsin Missionaries to the Preborn, an extremist group that has undertaken violent tactics outside abortion clinics and is also a proponent of an armed right-wing militia.

    “Relative to Janet Reno, he’s an angel.” – Convicted clinic bomber and FACE violator Michael Bray, of Bowie, Maryland. Bray has also authored a book advocating “justifiable homicide”.

“This is horrifying,” said Smeal. “When a convicted abortion clinic bomber calls John Ashcroft ‘an angel,’ we all have reason to fear. We must remember that despite the two faces John Ashcroft has put forth, there is only one twenty-five year anti-woman’s rights reality.”

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