Abortion Debate Still Contains More Questions Than Answers
Driving past Calvary Memorial Church in Southern Pines, one sees the annual field of pink and blue flags with the message "43 Million Babies Killed Since 1973."
The date: the Roe v. Wade Supreme Court decision of Jan. 22, 1973, when Justice Harry A Blackmun, writing for the majority, concluded, "The right of personal -privacy includes the abortion decision, but this right is not unqualified and must be considered against important state interests in regulation."
Blackmun, a respected moderate Nixon appointee and former Mayo Clinic counsel, was new to the court. He included the caveat, "We ... acknowledge the -sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy. Our task is to resolve the issue of constitutional measurement free of emotion."
Blackmun would receive hate mail and death threats till he died. The issue has never been "resolved." No leader has of yet brought the judgment of Solomon to the abortion dilemma.
The Albert Guttmacher Institute reported in 2002 that abortions among women 15-44 increased from 16.3 in 1973 to 29.3 million in 1981, then declined steadily to 21.1 by 2001. In that period, abortion ended 40 percent of unplanned pregnancies and 24 percent of all pregnancies. Of these women, 60 percent had previously given birth to a child, while 48 percent had previously had an abortion. Of women undergoing abortions, 46 percent reported not using contraceptives the month they became pregnant, and 88 percent of abortions took place within 12 weeks of pregnancy. Fewer than 0.3 percent of women undergoing abortions had complications requiring a hospital visit.
As of 2001, the number of abortion providers was 1,819, declining 11 percent in five years. Only 13 percent of U.S. counties had an abortion provider. The average cost for a routine surgical abortion in Raleigh is now $260 and $390 for a chemical RU-486 procedure.
A 2007 World Health Organization and Guttmacher study concluded that -abortion is no less prevalent in countries that prohibit it, but it is less safe. Research shows most pro-choice -advocates recognize that abortion is a difficult choice for women to make and hope no loved one will ever be faced with that decision.
Some pro-choicers support certain restrictions on abortion, such as 24-hour waiting periods or parental consent laws, but universally believe the state shouldn't be able to force a woman to bear a child against her will, or to force a woman to have an abortion against her will. They hold that a woman must have a fundamental right to make her own reproductive choices based upon her particular life situation and moral code with advice of family and doctor.
Most pro-life advocates are not anti-women's rights, albeit many who defeated the Equal Rights Amendment came from their ranks. They have a genuine concern about the health and welfare of women facing unplanned pregnancies. They know this can force a woman to interrupt her career, -education or endure financial hardship. They agree that a woman who chooses abortion compounds her problems by "taking an innocent life." They recommend adoption.
Ironically, the same advocates are typically silent on the issue of guns, which kill an American youth every two hours. Many Catholics who support the pope's stance on abortion reject his teachings condemning capital punishment. Ironically, right-to-lifers who decry the number of unwanted pregnancies among the unmarried will oppose providing basic birth-control information and contraception to those most in need of it. Federally funded abstinence programs have failed to achieve intended results.
The eternal conflict over a woman's liberty and her fetus's life has been demagogued on all sides. Right-wing media shouters have identified clinics deserving "special attention," thus motivating the murder of doctors and nurses and the harassment of abortion clinics and their patients. Yet for more than 43 years the American Medical Association argues that doctors must be allowed to use their clinical judgment without fear of arrest and prosecution in deciding whether a patient should have an abortion.
During the Great Depression, -desperate women resorted to then -illegal abortions to limit family size. A doctor wrote, "I treated a woman rushed hemorrhaging into the emergency room. ... Some obtained rubber urinary catheters and died from air embolisms or infection. Some swallowed quinine or turpentine. Others inserted corrosive potassium permanganate tablets. ... One 16-year-old died after douching with a cupful of bleach."
Those favoring legalized abortion fear that overturning Roe v. Wade will ensure a return to such desperate -measures and the deaths of pregnant women, particularly poor women. Abortion remains the third rail of American politics and is never discussed in "polite company." The controversy lingers, festers and divides the nation with dire political results, inflamed one-issue voters and Supreme Court appointees picked based upon the abortion litmus test.
Paul R. Dunn lives in Pinehurst. Contact him at email@example.com.
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