June 5, 2003


I post the following statement on partial-birth abortion by Andrew Sullivan in full, because I find that it tracks fairly closely with my own view, not only of PBA, but of abortion in general, (especially the "anguished, conflicted" part.) And he verbalizes that view better than I could. I don't buy the "slippery slope" argument of the pro-choicers as relates to a ban on PBA. It's simply a barbaric practice, and one can oppose it on it's own merit, without implying any particular position on abortion in general. (By the way, there's an intersting discussion of the constitutionality of the ban going on in The Corner over the last day or two.)

THE END OF INFANTICIDE II: I can certainly respect those who do not believe that a first trimester fetus is essentially a human person. But I cannot respect those who are morally untroubled by the hideous procedure of partial birth abortion. In fact I'd go further: one measure of how some pro-choice activists have lost their way is their refusal to see that some restrictions on abortion are indistinguishable from a total restriction on all abortion; and that there is a moral issue here. By the third trimester on, there is an unmistakable human being at stake - visually, intuitively, morally. The awful way in which that human being has its life extinguished in very late term abortions simply shouldn't be a part of any civilized society. Yes, I know my own abortion position - that it should be legal in the first trimester only - lacks complete moral and political coherence. But it's a result of trying to balance in my own mind my personal view that all abortion is wrong and my understanding that in a liberal democracy, others sincerely disagree; and in many cases, such disagreement also involves such an intimate decision on the part of a woman that I feel the state is unqualified to intervene. That's where I am - and where I suspect a lot of people are: uncomfortable, anguished, conflicted. But I see no reason to feel such conflicts about partial birth procedures. If the pro-choice movement eagerly agreed to outlaw these more horrific operations, they would surely have more credibility in arguing for retaining legal abortion in earlier stages. But they won't, because ideology is trumping reason here. It shouldn't. The passage of this law represents a huge step forward for humane medicine, whatever your ultimate position on the abortion matter in more general terms.

Like Sullivan, I feel that "the state is unqualified to intervene" and should not act to restrict a woman's right to choose abortion. People who believe that abortion is wrong, and who would hope to minimize the numbers of abortions performed, must press their case by winning hearts and minds, not by advocating for prohibitive legislation or judicial fiat. Educational and other programs to prevent unwanted pregnancy, facilitation of adoption, counseling, and reasonable waiting periods all seem like worthwhile steps toward that goal. And while programs like that might be assisted or partially funded by government, I don't believe they are the responsibility of government.

Pro-abortion extremists, like some of the "slippery-slopers" who oppose the PBA ban, often seem less resistant to the notion that government might limit abortion, than they are to the notion that that the decision of a woman, (or a couple) to abort an unborn child might carry more moral weight than would, say, an appendectomy, or that the procedure itself might be opposed, on moral grounds, by reasonable people.

In other words, I respect the individual's right to make a decision, but I am uncomfortable with just accepting this practice at its current levels as a necessary component of our society, and with people who insist that it is somehow unsophisticated, or even "dangerous", for anyone to suggest that we should try to do something about it.

FWIW, that's my half-baked opinion.

UPDATE 6/15: An item from the Weekly Standard's Scrapbook column mentions some rather biased and misleading, if not outright false information in their coverage of the partial-birth abortion ban:

In its latest incarnation, that measure [the PBA ban] was approved by The House of Representatives June 4 and is now finally--after eight years--headed up Pennsylvania Avenue to a president who'll actually sign it. Previous iterations of the bill were routinely vetoed by President Clinton, who just as routinely justified the move with one or another version of the same "factual" argument: that partial-birth abortions are a rare and necessary medical intervention generally employed to rescue the mother from grave health risks.

Even at the time, and even to non-specialist ears, the logic of this argument seemed peculiar. What self-respecting doctor, confronted with a genuine medical emergency, would resort to a surgical procedure that takes three full days to complete? Sure enough, President Clinton's partial-birth "facts" have long since been thoroughly debunked as fraudulent. Long-time WEEKLY STANDARD readers may remember, in particular, a lengthy investigation by the Washington Post resulting in a September 17, 1996, story concluding that "in most cases where the procedure is used, the physical health of the woman whose pregnancy is being terminated is not in jeopardy." Also, there was that spectacular, February 1997 confession by Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers that he'd "lied through my teeth" about the rarity of partial-birth abortions, a confession that was reported at the time by the New York Times: "In the vast majority of cases, the procedure is performed on a healthy mother with a healthy fetus that is 20 weeks or more along, Mr. Fitzsimmons said."

It's a funny thing, then--raising at least an inference of bias, you would think--that even the Post and Times have lately resuscitated Fitzsimmons-like "lies" as objective truth. From the Post's news account of the House vote June 4: "Doctors typically perform [partial-birth] procedures for health reasons, when the fetus's head is enlarged and when doctors want to reduce the likelihood of retained fetal tissue that can lead to infection in the woman." And from the Times: "The procedure...is rarely used, according to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit research group. . . . Abortion rights groups and many doctors assert that the legislation passed tonight could affect several procedures that are sometimes necessary to preserve the health and fertility of the woman."

Posted by dan at June 5, 2003 7:20 PM