Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Compromise and Anti-Choice Legislation

This is a uterus, and she doesn't haggle.

Yesterday, Eric Alterman was talking to Sam Seder about his upcoming book Why We're Liberals. He said that the majority of the country takes the liberal position on almost every issue. One of the issues that the majority of the country doesn't take the liberal position on: Abortion. He said that because women's organizations take a you're with us or against us stance on reproductive rights and put pressure on liberal politicians to do the same, the liberal position on abortion has become "abortion under any circumstances." Alterman says this hurts liberals, because most Americans support some sort of restriction on abortion and vote on this issue, and liberals aren't relating to them. Alterman's solution?

Compromise! Liberal politicians should compromise on this issue to pander to people who only believe in women's reproductive rights sometimes. It doesn't really matter if women's human rights are compromised in the process. Just as long as our Democratic majority lets us have a choice sometimes, it's all good. Of course, there is no pro-life organization that supports abortion under certain circumstances, nor do they support contraception. So, they don't reflect the mainstream, but that's okay.

But what about the ban on so-called partial-birth abortion, you ask? How can anybody not support that, you wonder? And what about parental notification and consent laws for pregnant minors? What's wrong with that? I'll tell you.

First, a lot of people think partial-birth abortion is the name given to an abortion performed during the third trimester and that the ban prohibits abortions during this time because, at this time, the fetus is viable. This is untrue. It's the name given to the procedure of extracting the fetus (intact dilation and extraction), and this procedure can be done in the second trimester as well. And it's the procedure, not third trimester abortions, that are illegal for almost any reason. What does this mean? Viability of the fetus has nothing to do with the ban on partial-birth abortion. I repeat, Viability of the fetus has nothing to do with the ban on partial-birth abortion. Viability begins at around 7 months gestation, but the procedure can't be done at any time.

Second, nowhere in the ban on partial-birth abortion does it say the frequency at which this procedure was ever done. "A moral, medical, and ethical consensus exists that the practice of performing a partial-birth abortion . . . is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited." Actually, if there's a consensus among medical professionals that the procedure is never medically necessary, then there is no need make a special law to ban it. Performing an unnecessary operation on someone is grounds for a malpractice lawsuit, so there was never a reason to pass a separate ban. Also, the ban states that "there are currently no medical schools that provide instruction on abortions that include the instruction in partial-birth abortions in their curriculum." That means that any doctor who has ever performed the procedure did so outside the scope of their expertise, which is malpractice. All of the evidence provided to support a ban is also evidence as to why a ban isn't necessary.

One might argue that, because this procedure is considered unnecessary, banning it is a preventative measure. As we know from the upholding of the ban, however, preventative legislation is not exactly the Supreme Court's thing. Last April, the original ban was upheld, even though it didn't contain a health exception. The reason was because none of the experts could testify that the procedure was ever necessary to preserve the woman's health. If preventing harm was the Supreme Court's number one priority, they would have passed the health exception, just in case.

I was almost not going to say anything about parental notification or consent laws, because the problems with such laws are quite obvious. But because I think a lot of people are in favor of such laws, it's a good idea to share with you why I think these laws are wrong. Since notification and consent are the same in my view, I believe both laws are abortion bans disguised as laws to protect parental rights. However, if preserving parental rights were the objective of these laws, a pregnant minor would need to gain parental notification or consent to remain pregnant and, consequently, give birth. No such law exists anywhere. My smell test for laws like this (e.g., parental consent/notification laws, laws requiring women to see an ultrasound if they're considering abortion) goes something like this: "Would anyone ever consider making a similar law for women who consider pregnancy?" If the answer is no, which it always is, then it's anti-choice legislation.

There are plenty of laws regarding abortion that are designed to protect women and their families. I can sit here all day researching them and telling you why they protect no one. I don't think people realize the implication of these laws. Would those in the "pro-choice middle," those people who believe in choice under certain circumstances, support laws restricting abortion if they realized, like I do, that these laws are leading to a ban on abortion entirely? If they truly want women to have the choice, I seriously don't think so. So I think this idea that most Americans are pro-choice-to-a-certain-extent is kind of misleading. I think it means that most Americans have yet to come around.


Sebatinsky said...

There are a lot of other problems with parental notification laws as well. Can you imagine a girl with an abusive father? Can you imagine a girl with a sexually abusive father? While these aren't the commonest of situations, if there is ever a good reason to avoid parental notification, a requirement is unacceptable.

FEMily! said...

You're absolutely right. I can go on all day about how these laws harm women. I almost did go on all day about it! Conservatives always talk about slippery slopes when it comes to gay marriage ("What next?! Marrying our pets?!!?), but liberals don't do the same thing when it comes to reproductive rights. That has to change.

Anonymous said...

Sebatinsky is absolutely right. If a teen is in a situation where she cannot under any circumstances talk to her family about being pregnant because of ANY kind of abuse, then partental notification should never be passed into law (even though a lot of states have succeeded in doing just that). If you are a person on the fence about parental notification then think about the teens that are in situations where there is no where to go.