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by Samantha Black, staff writer

 

In 2003 President George W. Bush signed into law the “Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003,” which was the first-ever federal ban on abortion. On behalf of the National Abortion Federation, the American Civil Liberties Union stepped in to challenge this ban.

Bush’s ban prohibited abortions as early as 13 weeks into term, whether or not the woman’s life was in danger, even though many doctors say abortions are perfectly safe after 13 weeks and are sometimes needed to preserve a woman’s life and health.

Bush’s ban made no exceptions for a women’s health or for extreme cases such as rape. Because of the efforts put forth by the ACLU, the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York blocked the enforcement of this ban.

This victory for women was made moot in spring 2007 when five male justices of the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Bush’s Partial-Birth Abortion Act, with one justice, Stephens, telling women it “was for their own good.” But the ACLU’s effort were not in vain. This caused a nearly three-year hiatus in the enforcement of the law, saving who knows how many women’s lives.

The ACLU is comprised of more than 500,000 members in all 50 states. Founded in 1920 by Roger Baldwin, Crystal Eastman, Albert DeSilver and others, the ACLU, with headquarters in New York City, handles about 6,000 court cases annually. It is a nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, meaning it is not anti-anything. ACLU officials say the only thing it is for is to protect the U.S. Constitution and the Bill of Rights. Records indicate it does not receive any government funding, and it survives solely on member dues as well as contributions and grants from private foundations.
The ACLU was founded to contest attempts to take away or limit our civil liberties. It brings suit in courts, it lobbies legislatures, it informs communities, and it does whatever it must to protect the individual rights and liberties guaranteed by our Constitution as well as the Bill of Rights.

The ACLU believes that every person and group in the United States should have the same basic rights, no matter their gender or race, age or sexual orientation, disability, religion, or economic circumstances. ACLU records indicate that only the Department of Justice appears before the Supreme Court more often than the ACLU.

The ACLU is often asked to explain why it defends certain groups, such as the American Nazis or the Nation of Islam. ACLU officials say it does not defend such organizations because it agrees with them; it defends their right to free expression and free assembly.

The core ideals of the ACLU state that the people whose opinions are most historically controversial or extreme are the people whose rights are most often threatened. Once the government successfully violates one person’s rights, that power can be used against anyone. However, because the ACLU receives so many requests for help, they only take on cases that they believe will have the greatest impact and set precedents for the future.

“ So long as we have enough people in this country willing to fight for their rights, we’ll be called a democracy,” said ACLU Founder, Roger Baldwin.

Current ACLU issues range from criminal justice to the death penalty, HIV privacy and testing to reproductive rights. Sometimes the ACLU goes against high profile topics they have supported in the past. For example, recently in Cincinnati the ACLU told the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit that a school policy designed to protect lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender students from harassment went too far in taking away the right of some religious students to express their views on homosexuality. This is the same school that the ACLU fought to allow a Gay-Straight Alliance to be started in March of 2002. The ACLU protects everyone’s rights.

There is even a section of the ACLU devoted solely to youth issues; it is called “Stand Up!” These issues vary from abstinence-only education to protection from military recruitment. “Stand Up!” encourages young people to get involved in their communities and get to know the facts so they can protect their rights. It also gives information on how to start an ACLU affiliate club on your college campus. Anyone interested in an HPU ACLU chapter?

The local chapter, ACLU Hawai‘i, was founded in 1965 and is located in downtown Honolulu. Although it has a similar agenda as the national ACLU, it extends its protection to the rights granted in the Hawai‘i State Constitution. The issues it addresses include such national problems as religious freedom and the separation of church and state and such local issues as Native Hawaiian rights.
Not only does ACLU Hawai‘i lobby the city and state government, it also protects those whose rights have been violated and it educates the community about its rights.

The Honolulu ACLU branch utilizes volunteers and accepts donations. Even better, is the opportunity it offers students to intern with the ACLU. It takes applications year round for nonpaid internships in the fall, spring and summer semesters. For more information on the local affiliate, visit acluhawaii.org. For more information on the national ACLU, visit aclu.org. To be put in contact with students who want to develop an ACLU affiliate at HPU, e-mail kalamalama@hpu.edu.

 

 

 

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