Tuesday, October 28, 2003

State of Confusion: It's disappointing to seek reasoned political debate only to find empty rhetoric. Sometimes the verbiage is so thick that people can't separate fact from fiction, or relevant from irrelevant.

Case in point is the upcoming ban on partial-birth abortions. Congress has passed the bill, Bush has promised to sign it into law, opponents have vowed a court challenge -- yet it seems like most people aren't sure what we're talking about.

The bill mentions "partial-birth abortion", which isn't a medical term. The legislation seems to target at least one method, known as "intact dilation and extraction" or "D&X" or "D&E". But nobody knows if the bill's wording will outlaw other procedures as well.

Because experts don't agree on how often D&X abortions take place or for what reasons, both sides have decided to appeal to emotion instead of logic.

Pro-choicers complain that the bill whittles away at abortion rights founded under Roe v. Wade. But that's not the case. The Supreme Court ruled under Roe that government can't interfere with abortion rights during the first trimester, but it can make reasonable limitations in the second trimester and even proscribe termination of a viable fetus in the third trimester except to preserve the health and life of the mother.

As a pro-choicer myself, I'm sensitive to the argument that the ban on partial-birth abortions could be a slippery slope to further bans. But I'm also rational enough to listen to each argument on its merits.

Unfortunately, I don't hear many arguments coming from the pro-life side. All I hear is that partial-birth abortions are gross. Pro-lifers vividly describe how doctors reach inside the woman's womb, pull the fetus through the birth canal, cut the back of its skull, and suck out its brain contents. Yes, it's gruesome, but so is a hernia operation.

The medical field is not for the faint of heart. I could tell you that some doctor ripped open my father's chest, cracked his breast plate in two, sliced the blood vessels near his heart, sucked out its contents, then sliced open his thigh, ripped out blood vessels and put them in his chest, then sewed him back up. Fortunately, the open-heart surgery saved my dad's life.

So from what I can tell, the only reason pro-lifers find this procedure such an easy target is because of the horrific description attached to it. But it appears that D&X is just one type of late-term abortion. Doctors have others at their disposal. So is it that big of a deal that they can't use one? Perhaps not. But then why should Congress outlaw one method just because it's gross?

The problem with sweeping bans like this is that they don't take individual circumstances into consideration. The Boston Globe ran a story about a woman who found out that if she carried her pregnancy to term, her newborn child would have died immediately. So, broken-hearted, she had a late-term abortion using the specific procedure that is to be banned.

If we were protecting this woman or other women from something, I could understand instituting the ban. But this is a case of politicians meddling with a woman's private life for no sound reason. Those decisions should be between her and her doctor.


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