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'Frontline' looks at abortion rights

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Despite the scores of other cases he would hear over his career, the upcoming Senate battle over Samuel Alito's ascension to the Supreme Court is being posed largely as a struggle over a woman's right to manage her own body. But, as tonight's "Frontline" report, "The Last Abortion Clinic," points out, anti-abortion groups and state legislatures in the South have drafted a plethora of laws that are making it increasingly difficult for a woman to receive an abortion.

"The assault on abortion rights is very clever -- and we are losing," admits the owner of an abortion clinic in the documentary.

Written, produced and directed by Raney Aronson, the film focuses on a clinic in Mississippi it posits as the last in the state. Late in the report, it amends that a bit, saying it's the only one that performs the routine after the first trimester of a pregnancy.

Aronson speaks to anti-abortion advocates and politicians in the state, who, in conjunction with very patient lobbyists, have passed a number of so-called "TRAP laws," short for Targeted Regulation of Abortion Providers. These laws set up regulations for clinics that are difficult, if not impossible, to meet, under the rubric of serving women's health needs.

An abortion-rights spokeswoman suggests that if women's health was indeed the goal, the state wouldn't make it so difficult for a woman wanting an abortion to get one.

Instead, Crisis Pregnancy Centers have been established, which offer sex education advocating abstinence. Anti-abortion groups only recently have begun addressing the needs of women who can't afford to have a child.

A plurality of Mississippi women -- 60 percent -- now leave the state for their procedures. Many, however, cannot afford to travel or to take much time off of work. Though the film focuses on Mississippi, the situation is very similar in Texas, a much larger state where the ability to travel outside it is much more difficult.

A New Hampshire law, currently before the Supreme Court, requires underage pregnant women to inform their parents before having an abortion except in dire cases. How the high court defines those cases will probably be key in its decision.

------------ THE LAST ABORTION CLINIC 3 stars What: "Frontline" documentary on anti-abortion group's efforts to subtly chip away at abortion laws, primarily in the South.

Where: PBS.

When: 9 tonight.

In a nutshell: Informative.

c.2005 Los Angeles Daily News

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