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Despite his liberal image, Obama’s 2008 election provoked “a new phase” of activism against abortion, according to Susan Freitsche.

Freitsche, senior staff attorney at the Women’s Law Project, and other experts discussed this issue and its repercussions in a conference entitled, “Abortion and Reproductive Rights in the Era of Obama” at the Penn Law School last night.

The program, co-sponsored by an array of Law School student organizations, featured five experts who specialize in topics ranging from abortion and reproductive justice to infertility and feminism.

University of California, Davis, professor Carole Joffe opened the panel with a discussion about the murder of George Tiller, a Kansas abortion provider who was murdered at church by an anti-abortion activist.

His death, Joffe said, illustrates the “ugliness” of extreme anti-abortion tactics. In light of Tiller’s death, she said, “the public must demand that the Obama administration use every resource at its disposal” to confront the movement.

According to Frietsche, with the 2008 election came a perceptible increase in threats and violence against abortion.

“A lot of anti-abortion rhetoric is laced with anti-Obama rhetoric,” she said, remarking on how Obama is a marked improvement, but not the most progressive leader in the world in terms of abortion.

Rutgers Law professor Kimberly Mutcherson elaborated on the effect of Obama’s election. She said Obama is “governing from the middle,” and it is not likely that he will pursue the issue as far as activists want.

Ultimately, she added, “In this country, at the core of [any] discussion comes abortion. Abortion swallows everything in its path.”

Penn Professor Anita Allen spoke about America’s “shift away from the free choice model of abortion”

to the “era of prohibition,” whereby some abortions, such as partial-birth abortions, are illegal. The shift, Allen said, is “morally arbitrary,” as by law, women can make every decision alone other than whether and how to end pregnancies.

Freitsche emphasized that above all, programs like last night’s are critical because abortion rights are endangered today.

“It’s common for clinics to be visited on a daily basis by protestors whose tactics include pushing, making threats and using inflammatory words,” she said.

Law student Nicole Noonan-Miller said she thought the talk was relevant and enriching. “It’s a unique opportunity to pick [the speakers’] brains and hear what they have to say,” she said.

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