Comments from The Outpost

The "Partial Birth" Abortion Ban -- Who Really Cares?

23 May 1997

by Dan Murphy

Good evening.

Earlier this week, the US Senate passed the so-called "partial birth abortion" bill -- that is, a bill that would outlaw a medical procedure used a very small number of times each year. There has been vast amounts of rhetoric on both sides of this issue, as indeed there has been on the general issue of abortion, and let me assure you that I don't expect to change anyone's mind on the general question by anything I might say here tonight.

I do want to note some observations about how this bill was debated in the Senate however, and on the spin that this issue generates in the public perception. For example, given the intensity of debate in the Senate and the attention given to it, this could have been a declaration of war being debated. Is this actually an issue comparable to going to war in the affairs of the nation? And what does it say about us that, perhaps, it is.

Here's the dilemma. On the one hand, this is not an important issue. It affects a very small number of people. The republic will not fall if this bill becomes law nor if it fails to become law. On the other hand, those who are affected are affected profoundly, and for them, it is a matter of life and death. Hence, if I were in the Senate, I would be the last person to go along with the crowd in casting my vote, or cast it for political gain or to avoid being challenged on it in the next election. No. I would take as much time and use as much influence as I could to try to make my view prevail.

On the other hand, the debate in the Senate has been a sorry spectacle in practice. The proponents of the bill have spent hours of debate and all manner of rhetorical excesses attempting to prove something which no one really disputes -- that the medical procedures in question is highly undesirable and quite appalling for the average person to consider in detail. This didn't need to be proven. No one has an "Intact D&E" for fun or for convenience. Color pictures of an appendectomy turn the stomach of people not used to close-up views of medical procedures. The gruesomeness of operating room pictures tells us no more about the morality of this medical procedure than bloody battlefield pictures tell us about the morality of the war from which they came.

The proponents of this bill also consumed vast amounts of time arguing another undisputed point. No one wants to kill babies. No one. At least no one in their right mind and remotely capable of being affected by this law. The ranting and wringing of hands on this theme is, sadly, nothing but grandstanding for benefit of the religious right which wants all abortions banned and for which this bill is just one small step toward that end. No one is swayed by this blather, no insight is provided, and, ultimately, no progress is made toward any positive improvement in society.

This debate, and in particular the rejection of the alternative bill last week and the exceptions for the life and health of the mother in this bill, prove once again that the debate isn't even about abortion mostly. It's about power and control. If it were about abortion, then compromises could be worked out and bills passed that the President would sign that would in fact serve to decrease the incidence of abortion in this country. But no! That's not acceptable to the religious right. They want absolute control and will accept nothing less than complete surrender of women to make a choice in this matter, EVEN TO SAVE THEIR OWN LIFE.

This finally is the most appalling thing about the Senate debate. Not the gruesome pictures, not the uncompromising self-righteousness, not the vast effort to pass a bill that the country just doesn't need. No. The appalling thing is that none of the proponents of the bill, in ANY of the debate that I heard or read, explained why or even dealt with the fact that this bill would make it illegal for a woman to have a medical procedure that would save her life.

That is the crux of this bill and the compromise that, whatever you might think about the result, would probably get the President's signature and become law. By refusing that compromise, the radical right is saying that they are willing and eager to sign the death warrant of a few hundred or a few thousand women each year from now on. A small number? Yes... Will the republic fall if this happens? No... But by what moral authority...? By what divine right...? By what perverse, distorted, and dictatorial fanaticism, do any of these Senators presume to deny even ONE of these women the RIGHT TO LIFE that this procedure might provide?

If you didn't notice, none of the WOMEN in the Senate, including the Republican women, voted for this bill. Why would they? Why would any woman voluntarily give up the right to a procedure that might save her life? The fact that some men in the Senate so blindly and fanatically support this legislation forces us to conclude that what they're thinking has to be, "well, it's not MY body, and it's not MY life."

That's bottom line here; that's the operative effect of this proposed law: prohibiting a procedure that might save a life. As I said earlier, nobody chooses this procedure willingly. Nobody endures it except in extreme circumstances. It is unfortunate and a tragedy all around when it must be used, and it is only used when the alternative is a greater tragedy. In other words, there is nothing broken that this law would fix. Its enactment would be something for the anti-choice side to crow about and revel in, and something for anti-choice politicians to brag about in election campaigns. And for that, they are willing to have women die.

For this week, that's the view from the Outpost. For WMBR, this is Dan Murphy.

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