Undermining abortion rights

April 22, 2007

A shift in strategy of abortion opponents was critical: Exploit the perceived barbarity of the partial-birth abortion procedure and direct efforts to outlaw it. President Bush, though a disappointment to many conservatives, contributed to the fight by appointing John G. Roberts Jr. and Samuel A. Alito Jr. to the Supreme Court. And last week, the two justices did their part by helping swing the court toward a major restriction of abortion rights, a 5-4 decision that upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion and extended the court's jurisdiction to "the life of the unborn." It's an unjustifiable blow to women's rights.

Supporters of abortion rights should marshal their forces - and votes - against the next likely challenges to Roe v. Wade as state legislatures consider the court's ruling.

The medical profession also lost under the ruling; it doesn't matter if a doctor believes a partial-birth abortion is necessary because of the health of a woman. The court, for the first time since the landmark 1973 ruling, undercut the health exception. Now this procedure can be used only if a woman's life is endangered. Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy said the ban was appropriate because other termination methods are available to women.

No reasonable person can contest the grim details of the disputed, late-term procedure, which involves partial removal of the fetus and crushing the skull for easier evacuation. In supporting the ban, Justice Kennedy proclaimed as "self-evident" that a woman would feel more sorrow "when she learns, only after the event," the particulars of the procedure. How presumptuous to think that women would regret the decision based solely on the method rather than on the medical reason that compelled her to terminate her pregnancy so late. Can Justice Kennedy really know?

The impact of the decision will affect a minority of the 1.3 million abortions performed annually because 80 percent to 90 percent occur in the first 12 weeks. But women have been aggrieved because the court undermined their right to make medical decisions in consultation with their doctors - decisions that should be theirs alone.

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