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Group Recruiting Female Students To Fight Restrictive Abortion Laws

August 1, 1990

WASHINGTON (AP) _ A major women’s rights organization announced Wednesday a drive to enlist 1 million young women on college and high school campuses to fight restrictive state abortion laws, particularly those requiring parental consent.

The Feminist Majority’s ″Becky Bell Campaign,″ named for a 17-year-old Indianapolis girl who died in 1988 from complications suffered in a back-alley abortion, will be concentrated in Indiana, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Ohio, California, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island, sponsors said.

The parents of the dead girl, Bill and Karen Bell, endorsed the project in an emotional appearance at a news conference with Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority.

″Our daughter died because she happened to live in the wrong state ... she died because of a parental consent law that I had never even heard of,″ said the father, a 47-year-old office products salesman in Indianapolis.

As the parents explained it, their daughter, who normally shared her problems freely with them, was afraid to tell them about her pregnancy for fear of disappointing them. And she heard from friends that the Indiana courts rarely granted an exception to the parental consent requirement, so, in desperation, she went to an unqualified practitioner.

″When Becky died, I died with her,″ said Karen Bell. ″Becky didn’t want an abortion. But she wanted to save dad and I the shame of knowing she had fallen in love, had sex and became pregnant. This could happen to anybody. Kids are going to do these things.... Now all I have is the graveyard.″

″Don’t you think we wanted to know Becky was in trouble, that we wanted to help her?″ asked the father. ″But Becky confided to her friends ‘I can’t tell Mom and Dad - I love them too much.’ Our hope is that in speaking out we can spare other families the nightmare we now live. These laws are punitive. They are deadly.″

The campaign will feature the distribution of memorial bracelets carrying the names of Becky Bell or Rosie Jimenez, a 27-year-old McAllen, Texas woman said by the Feminist Majority to be the first to die as a consequence of the Hyde Amendment, named for Rep. Henry Hyde, R-Ill., which bars Medicaid abortion funding for poor women. Jimenez died Oct. 3, 1977, the same year the Hyde Amendment was passed.

Smeal, formerly head of the National Organization for Women, said the campaign will move this fall into Oregon, Michigan and Texas, where parental consent laws are pending. In all states, she said, the drive will focus on voter registration and get-out-the-vote projects in behalf of sympathetic state legislators. It also will promote bringing the European abortion pill, RU-486, to the United States.

The Feminist Majority is not a membership organization but currently has more than 50,000 contributors and more than 100,000 active supporters, according to press secretary Tamar Raphael.

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