Civil dialogue on abortion issue possible despite lies and distortion


September 20, 1992|By Jeff Griffith

Last Friday, I had an unexpected but pleasant surprise.

My friend Jo -- the names have been changed to protect the innocent -- stopped in for a visit. She wanted to tell me that my interpretation of a certain bumper sticker is all wrong.

I listened to her.

She listened to me.

We treated each other with respect.

And we agreed to disagree.

When Jo left, we hugged each other and promised to talk some more. I felt good about Jo's visit and I'm sure Jo did, too.

Jo considers herself "pro-life."

I consider myself "pro-choice."

L We both wonder what happened to civil dialogue on the issue.

For example, why was Pennsylvania Governor Casey denied the opportunity to speak at the Democratic National Convention? Why were pro-choice Republican women treated similarly at the Republican National Convention?

Since when, in a democracy, are we afraid of ideas?

What we should fear, if anything, is lies and distortions. That's why I was offended by the anti-choice literature I found hanging on my doorknob recently.

On Nov. 3, Jo and I are going to vote our consciences in the Choice referendum, Question 6. We also will vote on the basis of facts, not lies and distortions. The door-hanger piece, a production of the "Committee Against Radical Abortion Laws," relies on the latter.

Lie No. 1: The new law would allow abortion "the day before birth."

Fact: The new law prohibits late-term abortions in all but the most extreme medical circumstances. The law says, "The state may not interfere with the decision of a woman to terminate a pregnancy:

(1) before the fetus is viable; or

(2) at any time during the woman's pregnancy, if

(I) the termination procedure is necessary to protect the life or health of the woman; or

(II) the fetus is affected by genetic defect or serious deformity or abnormality.

Translation: once the fetus is viable -- is reasonably likely to be able to survive outside the womb -- no abortion can be obtained unless the mother's life or health are threatened or the fetus is seriously defective or deformed.

More facts: Between 1985 and 1990, only five late-term abortions were performed in Maryland. Currently, 96 percent of abortions done in this state are performed in the first 15 weeks of pregnancy.

Lie No. 2: The new law allows abortion because the fetus "is a girl and the parents wanted a boy, or vice versa."

Fact: No evidence whatsoever exists that sex selection is a reason for terminating pregnancies in Maryland. Indeed, since 91 percent of abortions in Maryland occur in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, before the sex of the fetus can be determined, sex selection can hardly form the basis of those choices.

Lie No. 3: The new law allows abortions without a "minor mother's parents being informed that the abortion had been scheduled."

Fact: The law requires parental notification in all but a limited set of circumstances. Physicians must inform parents of minors seeking abortion unless notice would place the minor in danger of "physical or emotional abuse," the minor is "mature" enough to give "informed consent" -- that's an important and widely accepted legal and medical standard -- or notification would not be in the "best interest of the minor."

Lie No. 4: Doctors who perform abortions are "absolved of all criminal and much civil liability."

Fact: The law protects doctors from liability for the decision itself. Doctors must act "in good faith." They'd still be liable for malpractice, based on national standards of performance, what the law calls "accepted standards of medical practice."

My friend Jo plans to vote "no" on Question 6. I respect her decision because she has thought carefully and made her decision on the basis of the facts and her conscience. I intend to vote "yes" on the same grounds. Meanwhile, watch your doorknob. The Committee Against Radical Abortion Laws doesn't trust you to make that judgment. Read the law. Vote the facts. Vote your conscience.

That's how a democracy works.

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