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April 20, 2007

Decision Births Impartial Reactions

Wednesday's Supreme Court ruling, which upheld a ban on partial-birth abortion, may end up being only a modest victory in curbing the cultural and legal acceptance of abortion. Justice Kennedy's majority opinion is a strained attempt to validate the law in question while making clear enough that the central tenets of Roe v. Wade and Planned Parenthood v. Casey remain essentially untouched.

Still, modest or not, it’s a long-awaited step toward sanity. If the practice of abortion, in general, seems fairly indefensible to some of us, the partial-birth procedure is difficult to comprehend, let alone be held as a reasonable “choice” for a pregnant mother.

But to listen to the panicked voices of pro-abortion groups and liberal media outlets, the Carhart decision smashed Roe v. Wade into a thousand pieces. That may be a bit premature. It perhaps reveals, however, that partial-birth abortion became a symbol of broader abortion freedom, leaving this week’s ruling to suggest that an outer perimeter of that freedom has now been breached.

The rhetoric certainly extends well beyond the limited scope of the majority opinion in Carhart. Planned Parenthood and NARAL even refer to the law as a “federal abortion ban.” “Yesterday’s ruling is devastating,” claims the former. “The implications will truly hit home for women throughout the country.”

And the New York Times: “[The majority opinion] severely eroded the constitutional respect and protection accorded to women and the personal decisions they make about pregnancy and childbirth.”

Adds USA Today: “The Supreme Court reached deeply into women’s lives and took away one medical option they have had to deal with such a wrenching decision.”

And what is this medical option so crucial to the lives of American women? The syllabus for the Carhart case describes it this way:

The fetus is usually ripped apart as it is removed, and the doctor may take 10 to 15 passes to remove it in its entirety. The procedure that prompted the federal Act and various state statutes, including Nebraska’s, is a variation of the standard D&E, and is herein referred to as “intact D&E.” The main difference between the two procedures is that in intact D&E a doctor extracts the fetus intact or largely intact with only a few passes, pulling out its entire body instead of ripping it apart. In order to allow the head to pass through the cervix, the doctor typically pierces or crushes the skull.

The Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act will only apply to the latter, “intact” procedure.  Somehow, prohibiting that practice -- which even the Washington Post calls “admittedly gruesome” -- is supposed to endanger women simply desiring to exercise their “choice.”

This makes no sense at all, unless abortion is such a sacred and inviolable right that it cannot be restrained or hindered under any set of circumstances. Such a rigid standard would not only exceed the reach of legislative and judicial precedent, but it would render the unborn child valueless. If partial-birth abortion isn’t appalling enough to be outlawed, then where can the line be drawn?

Perhaps the Supreme Court hasn’t moved that line very far this week, but it’s a start. A much needed one.

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