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
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
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
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
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
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