L. Neil Smith's
Number 249, November 30, 2003

From a practical standpoint

The Debate Marches On
by Jason Higginson

Exclusive to TLE

Wednesday, November 05, is a day many pro-life proponents celebrated and many pro-choice supporters loathe. On this day President Bush signed into law a ban on partial-birth abortions. Both sides of the issue agree this is the first step toward limiting a woman's right to choose.

Later that day the Nebraska Supreme Court block the bill citing the measure doesn't mention protecting women's health. The judge pointed out the law had a "serious vagueness problem" and testimony before Congress was highly slanted in favor of the legislation. The judge also cited that no doctors who actually perform this procedure were presented and the lack of a health exemption for the woman was particularly troubling. Smart judge. I read the bill and the vagueness issue is the result of Congress' bill writing. Nowhere in the legislation did it adequately define "partial birth abortion," which is a phrase invented by the pro-life camp to stigmatize what is actually an uncommon medical procedure. If the law is written without an adequate definition of what the law is seeking to criminalize then you run the risk of criminalizing lawful activity. In other words, under the legislation, "partial birth abortion" may mean any kind of abortion. Nebraska's blocking the bill was the same reason why Bill Clinton vetoed the bill. Clinton said he would have signed it if the language regarding a woman's health were in there.

I wonder if this judge thought to block the PATRIOT ACT. That act is a lot more vague and has yet to be challenged. It is part of the federal judicial system's job to see if laws are unconstitutional. Remember that checks and balances thing you learned in government class? This is what they were talking about. It's so an Administration and Congress can't go completely overboard with laws like this.

Thanks to checks and balances we have one judge subverting the will of 536 elected officials. Perhaps there are those who see a problem with this.

The problem is 536 elected officials have no right to tell a woman what she has the right to do and not to do with her body. Allowing men to decide abortion law is like letting the Army decide their own military budget. Abortion, while maybe distasteful, is still about a woman's right to choose what her body should be a life support system for.

I, and many others, am predicting this will end up in the hands of the United States Supreme Court, and the following ruling will set a precedent a la Row V. Wade. I think it would make sense if the president appointed a Supreme Court justice who also holds an MD degree, there are a few out there, so these kinds of things could be better worked out.

The important question is why didn't Congress use the medical terminology? Why did Congress intentionally make the legislation vague? That is, why did Congress initially make the legislation unconstitutional in the first place when they could have simply written a constitutional law to begin with?

I believe this "law" has only one purpose; it is Bush's signal back to home camp that he is still in their pocket. This law has been examined and analyzed ad nausea, and many agree that it's poorly written and unconstitutional. Those observing know it will be struck down. For Republicans this is win/win for them. They get to have two bullet points for their campaign materials; one, we passed the law, and two, the evil liberal judiciary struck it down and put a stop to it!

Congress may not be aware that there is no medical procedure called "partial birth abortion," pro-lifers created this term. The procedure, properly known as dilation and extraction, is done to preserve a woman's health and/or life and is rarely performed (just a few hundred per year). It's usually done after the 24th week of pregnancy, but sometimes may be done as early as the 20th week. Roe v. Wade allows unrestricted access to abortion until the 24th week of pregnancy.

A woman is 11 times more likely to die from complications of childbirth than from a legal abortion. Pre-eclampsia (pregnancy- induced high blood pressure), eclampsia (pregnancy-induced seizures caused by high blood pressure) and HELPP syndrome (kidney/liver failure) are life-threatening conditions that can occur during the third trimester of pregnancy. Dilation and extraction (partial-birth abortion) is necessary when the woman's uterus cannot be allowed to expand in order to allow the fetus' head to pass because it will elevate her blood pressure, cause seizures and kill her.

The other day I was at a college doing research at the library when I ran into an old classmate and thus discussing this issue. He told the story of his mother while pregnant with him. Doctors advised her to have an abortion when she was pregnant. She was having major heart troubles at the time and they told her she needed to have an abortion or she might die. As the story goes he turned out to be a healthy person and his mother went on to have a very healthy life. Knowing this story he doesn't agree with abortion. He believes "abortions shouldn't be performed at all! Congress and the President should make the right decisions for women and that abortion is not a civil right." Then added, "Why is it ok to use violence (abortion) to get rid of a child conceived through violence (rape)?"

My response: "I'm glad to hear your mother survived and made a choice by her own free will not to abort you. I harbor no ill will against you, but for you to suggest that Congress should be telling people what they can and cannot do with their own bodies is wrong. To suggest that abortion should never be performed for any reason whatsoever is simply ignorant. Having the freedom to decide what you want to do with your body is a civil right, and a very important one. Abortion is tragic, but it's a medical decision to be made between the boyfriend/husband, woman and her doctor, not in the United States' Congress." In this person's case the doctors were recommending a course of action in accordance with their best medical opinion. I'm sure they're very glad his mother gave birth to him and pulled through. As for the cases of rape it's a loaded question that, as usual, puts all the emphasis on the fetus and none on the mother.

It appears pro-lifers refuse to look at the woman. They'll blame the woman all they can for being carelessly sexually active. When presented with a situation where none of those scenarios apply, they just ignore the woman altogether. The woman can be blamed, but her physical or mental state can't be considered otherwise. If you want to legally mandate that women who have been raped must carry the fruits of that rape in their bodies and give birth then let the offspring of that rape out into the world, you're paying too much attention to the ideology of anti-abortionist and not enough to the practicality of actually being a woman.

Whether you are pro-choice or pro-life you have to justify one death and one life. It's not a winner take all argument which is why this is tricky. Pro-lifers will argue that there is risk of death in abortion. There is a risk of death in any operation with open cuts and anesthesia. Maybe we should outlaw open-heart surgery or appendectomies to protect the life of the patient. After all you could possibly survive appendicitis with antibiotics.

In addition to partial-birth abortion saving the life of the woman what if doctors know the child will have server defects?

How many of you actually deal with maternal-fetal medicine or something like it? Do you want to be the one that has to tell a woman she must keep a child that has only spongy tissue instead of brain? Or that for the rest of her life she'll have to support an organism that will never be able to control its own motor functions. Perhaps one should visit in-care facilities for organisms with medical conditions that make them barely human, and human only due to chromosome count. The cost on the government, the workforce and emotions on people's lives is just going to be worse if pro-lifers insist that these beings are forced to live. Do they realize how utterly cruel it is to force a woman to come to term and give birth to something that is going to suffer and die?

This reminds me of a story of an old friend's parents. Doctors believed the baby, his brother, was going to have mental and physical problems. Recommendations were advised and his parents decided to have the child. His brother was born two months premature. After two months in the hospital his parents ended up with a medical bill of about $60k. His brother is now six and has serious problems with his kidneys and is severely retarded. At six he can stand, but not walk very well. When he is eight, sadly, he is expected to die. The marriage ended a year ago, and the mother lives in a tiny apartment and the father moved back home with his mother. The whole thing destroyed a nice couple and loving parents.

I don't understand how people justify being against abortion. Fetuses aren't aware of their own existence; therefore they are not technically alive. Consciousness is what defines us as alive, if we didn't know of our own existence, how would we know we're alive?

A fetus has not had any of the experiences necessary to make it a person. It is almost indistinguishable (except genetically) from the fetus of a chimpanzee; it has no thoughts and no emotions. It is incapable of surviving in any way on it's own. Humans become people through experience. In South American cultures where infant mortality is particularly high, babies don't even get names until their first haircut, which is at about the age of two.

Sperm are alive and have the potential to become people, as are ova. This does not make them special. Fetuses likewise are alive and have the potential to become people, but are not people. From anthropology studies I have learned that a great percentage (approaching 50%) spontaneously aborts; many before the mother even knows she is pregnant. Is every one of those spontaneous abortions a "death"?

A young woman whom I was discussing the abortion issue with shared an interesting thought. "Ever notice whenever you see the "pro-life" crowd protesting outside abortion clinics, they are usually 90% male. If these guys had to experience childbirth, or had been raped, or had their provider run off with some floozy leaving them with another mouth to feed while on welfare or have their health put in danger by a pregnancy gone wrong, then, you can bet they'll change their tune. It just seems to me they don't want people to have sex!"

This woman brought up an interesting point. I wondered what problem the pro-lifers have with sex? I gather that most have a sense that sex is "bad" due to their parents and church claming it's "dirty" at a young age. Basically these people only see sex for procreation and not for enjoyment. This attitude just continuously baffles me.

Historically, people were having sex at 13-14 not in order to procreate, but because sex feels good and all organisms are, and have been for billions of years, programmed to try to have sex as early as possible. Humans are not only no exception, but are arguably worse, because humans have orgasms and so desire, both consciously and unconsciously.

I've discovered most pro-lifers are against teaching any form of sex education. If we don't teach our children responsible sex education and how to protect themselves from pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs), can we place total fault on women for having unwanted pregnancies? Don't just get up on your moral soapbox and preach; do something to help solve the problem. Sex education won't completely solve the problem, however I bet it would reduce pregnancies, abortions and STDs significantly. If universally affordable contraception were available it's not solve the problem of unwanted pregnancy, but would help. One thing I can guarantee, no law or legislator is going to stop abortion until they start fixing the root of the problem.

People can have responsible sex if they have the knowledge and the means. I knew a woman who honestly had no idea what a condom was. Did that stop her from having sex? She now has two children out of wedlock. When I asked her why she didn't use protection, she said, "I didn't know I could."

I believe scientific research into sex has been slowed by fundamentalist religion. The pill was looked down upon when it was invented. These same people stifle the availability of condoms in schools and even colleges. They certainly don't want more research being done into making it safer for people to engage in "naughty" acts.

I thought about the moral issue in regard to Washington's power makers. I thought how some of power makers in Washington believe we should be a moral country, i.e. Bush. I figure if we really want to be a pro-life country then shouldn't our Administration cut off all trade relations with China? Abortions are required in China and if it's disobeyed doctors wait until the child's head pops out and jam a poisonous syringe in the head. Why are we doing business with China? Oh wait; we get a lot of money out of that deal don't we? It's amazing how morality can be conveniently and inconsistently applied in this country.

This bill was a sham and an attack on women. Look, if you don't want an abortion, don't get one. If someone else wants an abortion, they should have a right to it. It's their health. It's their body. Abortion, the right to it, is protected under the 14th Amendment of the Constitution. When the Constitution was written, abortion was a woman's own business and men didn't get involved. Believe it or not, the Catholic Church wasn't against it until the 1860's. When the medical profession began to evolve childbirth became rather lucrative. The mid-wife who normally handled such matters was pushed aside by the doctor.

Lets face it; abortion is unpleasant in any form. It extinguishes the potential for human life and all the hope that encompasses. It is also a right that women have rightly claimed for themselves.

Do you really think outlawing abortion women will stop getting them? Woman will always abort rather than be forced to have a child they don't want. It's not going to stop because it's outlawed. Women will go away to Mexico and come back thin. Or worse, women will go see "Dr. Nick" in some seedy apartment. This will cause infections, disease and probably a lot of deaths. Prohibition of things people want can simply never work, and we should have learned this already.

Finally, the government shouldn't have the right to decide on issues like abortion. Leaving people with no choice but to give birth is a bad decision. It starts to dwindle away choices that we the people should have the full right to make on our own.

Jason Higginson is 23 living in the suburban Southern California town of Yucaipa. He's currently a student at California State University majoring in communication with a minor in political science.

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