Thursday, November 09, 2006

"Wouldn't the fetus...suffer a demise in seconds anyway?"

The US Supreme Court has begun listening to arguments concerning the partial-birth abortion ban law passed by Congress. Considering the controversial nature of the subject and the current makeup of the Court, this should be an interesting case.

According to Associated Press writer Mark Sherman, the justices had very pointed and graphic questions to ask of the two sides arguing the case. One such question, asked by Justice John Paul Stevens, is the title of this post.

The lines between the two sides have been clearly drawn. Those arguing for the law, including Solicitor General Paul Clement, say that this form of abortion simply goes too far. According to the AP story, 1.25 million abortions are performed each year, of which a few thousand are procedures doctors call "dilation and extraction" or "intact dilation and evacuation". Opponents call these abortions "partial birth" abortions because they are performed during the middle third of pregnancy and involve "partially extracting an intact fetus from the uterus, then cutting or crushing its skull."

Eve Gartner of Planned Parenthood is arguing against the law banning these abortions. Her side argues that this method is sometimes the safest for women. She is quoted by the AP as saying, "What Congress has done here is take away from women the option of what may be the safest procedure for her. This court has never recognized a state interest was sufficient to trump the women's interest in her health."

It seems to me that the sides boil down to the same basic abortion debate: the interest of the fetus versus the interest of the mother. The difference here, though, is the especially graphic nature of this method of abortion.


Charles D said...

The so-called "partial birth" abortion is first of all, extremely rare, accounting for a very small percentage of abortions and only in circumstances where the mother's life is in danger. The use of this tactic to try to chip away at the issue is deceptive at best. The "graphic nature" of the procedure makes it juicy fodder for those that want to press the issue.

You are right that the basic debate is the interest of the fetus versus the interest of the mother. As such, it is clear that the least capable arbiter of the debate is "big government". No one can be more sensitive to the interest of the fetus than the mother who faces carrying it to term, the pain of birth, and a lifetime of caring for another human being. No one could be more sensitive to the interests of the mother than she herself.

The best role government could play is to do what it can to prevent women from having to face this difficult decision. Instead of trying to intervene in this most personal decision, why not work hard to insure that high-quality sex education is present in our schools, that men and women have easy access to contraception, and that women and their children have ready access to quality medical care regardless of their financial situation? That would greatly reduce the number of abortions without interfering with anyone's rights.

Ashlee said...

Rights, schmights! These are babies we are talking about. In the rare case that a mother's life is put in danger if she does continue through with a pregnancy, then perhaps I can at least understand why a procedure such as this was even thought of. HOWEVER...I will restate that these are babies. Anyone who has a child of their own should understand the magnitude of what those who want the "choice", are doing. There are other options out there. far as "interest of the fetus vs. interest of the mother", I wonder how many stopped to ask the fetus fow it felt about being destroyed. Oh can't. Hmmm....seems to me that since one party is unable to fight for it's rights, it's a pretty one sided battle.

Charles D said...

Correct, Ashlee, you can't ask the fetus. I would agree that the fetus is a life form, but the decision about whether it is a human being at any particular point in gestation is not a scientific question but a debatable ethical one.

Since the government will, particularly if the right-wing has it's way, do little to assist either mother or child after it forces the mother to carry the child to term, I don't see it as having a role to play. There is an ethical dilemma - but it's the mother's dilemma - not one for big government.

Cameron said...


The images of partial birth abortion are sickening to many, myself included. This is why the law banning them passed Congress; alot of people simply can't stomach the thought of sucking a fetus's brains out and severing its limbs.


I disagree that this law and its public discussion is solely "juicy fodder". I think there are many that are deeply disturbed by a fetus being dismembered.

Also, I find your allusions to "big government" more than a little disingenuous considering your stance on many other issues, discussed both here and in other places.

Your last comment intrigues me though. You state that a fetus is a "life form" but not necessarily a human being. Is that what your support of abortion hinges on? That a fetus is not yet a human? What makes something a life form? What makes a life form a human? Why is it acceptable to kill a life form?

Charles D said...


Since the Intact Dilation and Extraction procedure is extremely rare, it is disingenous to make such a cause celebre of it. Something like .2% of abortions are in this category so it would not deserve the attention paid to it except for the progandizing of the anti-choice right.

I use the term "big government" since it is a rallying cry of those of you on the right to "explain" why you don't want the government to promote the general welfare. You don't want "big government" in health care, but you want that same government to interfere in painful ethical decisions within the family and between an individual and her physician. You don't want "big government" to provide housing or food or education for our poor, but you want that same government to force them to bring unwanted fetuses to term.

There has been and continues to be a debate about when human life begins. We obviously have little concern about killing other life forms (and grinding them into little patties and inserting them in fluffy buns and eating them), so the question is not whether something is alive, but whether it is human.

Beyond that, the question is who should make this decision? I cannot see someone who does not see a role for government in providing help for its citizens - affordable health care for all, access to free high-quality education for all, an income floor to prevent our children from growing up hungry and homeless, and strong safeguards for children against abusive and neglectful parents - how can that person see a role for government in forcing women to have children they do not want, and cannot care for? It is hypocrisy at its most extreme.

Cameron said...

Rarity does not make right. This is an issue because many people are offended by the images of a fetus, which looks an awful lot like a human baby, being partially removed from its mother's body and then having its brains sucked out and appendages removed. I think the offense would remain if only one of these abortions were performed.

Thank you for clarifying your position on "big government." I find it odd though, that as a proponent of government "helping" people with health care, education, wage scale, housing, and interestingly, protection from harmful parents, that you don't see a role for government to "help" a pregnant woman make the decision on whether or not to abort a baby.

Back to my questions though. You are correct to point out the difference between a "life form" and a human. I wonder though, what it is about a fetus that makes it not a human in your eyes?

Charles D said...

But Cameron, I do see a role for government "help" a pregnant woman make the decision on whether or not to abort a baby. You see a role for government to prevent the pregnant woman from making a decision you do not support. You want to restrict her freedom, I want to expand it.

Basically the problem is with those who want government to force the woman to bring the baby to term while denying her or the child she bears any help whatever. If you said, "Look, we don't want you to have an abortion, so we will guarantee you free pre-natal care and free care for your child and insure that you and your child will not have to worry about shelter, food, transportation or health care until it reaches adulthood." , then there would be some sense to a government ban on abortion. You want to restrict the woman's freedom and then leave her alone to cope with the result of your restriction.

Cameron said...

There is a lot of government aid. Medicaid will pay for prenatal and postnatal care as well as the cost of birth itself, the Earned Income Credit will send thousands of dollars to the mother, the Child Tax Credit will do the same, Food Stamps will help buy food for the mother and child, WIC will buy essential groceries as well, state housing programs will pay for all or part of rent, and there are programs that will pay for utilities. Additionally, there are numerous private organizations that will help with costs of living, including the church to which I belong.

So yes, our government does help.

However, you still haven't answered my question. What makes a fetus not a human?

Charles D said...

I did not state that the fetus was or was not human, but that it is "not a scientific question but a debatable ethical one." The question, and the implication (that abortion is murder) is an ethical question that each woman with an unintended pregnancy must face.

My point, again, is that this is a difficult decision with huge implications for the mother (regardless of the skeletal government programs you probably don't support anyway) and that the government is not in a position to grapple with that decision on her behalf, nor is there any compelling reason for it to do so.

I understand that for those who have strong religious beliefs against abortion, this is problematic, but religious people should be about changing people's hearts and minds, not forcing them to behave as you prefer.

Cameron said...

"I did not state that the fetus was or was not human..."

I know, that's why I keep asking. I'd like to know what your opinion is and why. Is a fetus a human?

Anonymous said...

If you don't want children what are you doing having unprotected sex. My 10 year old knows that when you have sex you have babies. It's not like sex education is a new thing we are just discovering! Take some responsibility for your actions. People shouldn't regard abortion as a form of birth control. They need to take accountability for their actions. There are thousands of couples out there that would LOVE to care for the child you are about to abort! ADOPTION!!!! There is an alternative to killing an innocent child. Plus, those who actually go through with the abortion...most regret the choice, and most suffer from depression and are in therapy for life. A heart beats after a few weeks, organs are developing, it is a life... a HUMAN! And ready access to contraception????? it's VERY available. You can go to any school nurse and get condoms. Any girl can go to their local health clinic and be examined and put on birth control without the mother's consent, and are extremely discreet about it. They will not disclose information regarding the child even being a patient at the clinic. There is sex education in the's everywhere!!!! Like I said, this is not a new subject we are just confronting. People are mostly careless.

"Women with unintended pregnancies are those most likely to get abortions. According to the Guttmacher report, 47 percent of unintended pregnancies are aborted."

It's not the dying mother, or those with threatened health that are getting most of the abortions!

I agree that we should have a choice, but just because I don't want something, or it might be inconvenient doesn't mean I should have the choice to kill it!

None said...

Make it about choice or life. It doesnt matter. In the end its about class, at least for me. Rich people will always have the option for an abortion. While poor people wont. A person might go to the internet right now and order pills, in the early stages of pregnancy, that can cause an abortion. Anyway, all those poor people having the undo burden of extra kids just end up deeper in debt. Even better, Republicans keep making it more difficult on people to get out of debt.

Once you've been conceived some people, the same people that toss science out the window, like to talk about a heart beating, organs are developing and even when life actualy begins.

But, far be it from me to decide such lofty issues. I'm not a woman.

And... some groups dont even care about the womans health.

And... just kidding... have a great weekend!

Charles D said...

Melanie seems to want to blame the victim - a key element of right-wing thinking that seems far out of sync with Christian teaching to me.

We could all wish that all women of childbearing age had good sex education in their public school, had access to affordable and effective contraceptives, never acted irresponsibly (even as teenagers), and were never forced to have sex. We could wish there were a loving couple available for every unwanted child also. Unfortunately we do not live in a utopia. Furthermore, many of those who are loudest in their opposition to abortion also oppose sex education, and freely available contraceptives.

We need to live in the real world, where mistakes are made and have compassion for those who make them and who must face the difficult decisions and consequences of those mistakes. The pro-choice movement has a slogan that abortion should be safe, legal and rare. If those who opposed abortion on principle worked alongside the responsible pro-choice advocates, we could do a great deal to reduce the number of abortions in this country.

Cameron said...

The victim? A pregnant woman is somehow a victim to her unborn child? Are children really that reprehensible that they victimize their mothers?

"mistakes are made and have compassion for those who make them and who must face the difficult decisions and consequences of those mistakes."

Melanie's argument seems to be that the mistake is to have unprotected sex, and the consequence of that mistake is becoming pregnant. I would ask how does aborting a baby fit into the consequence department? Doesn't that avoid the consequence entirely?

Melanie states that sex education is not new. Everyone knows that if you have sex you may get pregnant. Those that oppose mass, random passing out of contraceptives would likely say that pills and condoms aren't foolproof. You can still become pregnant, you can still contract STD's. But perhaps more importantly, sex is a big deal. It has more than a physical impact on a person, especially on young people. Having responsible adults give contraceptives to young people is an implicit approval of teenage sex. Because of the multidude of risks involved, I think that approval is misguided.

But once again, we have gotten off track a little bit. In my opinion, the abortion debate can be narrowed down to whether or not a fetus is a human. Democracy Lover avoids answering this question because he realizes its implication. If a fetus is human, then abortion should not be readily available. I do not ask him to speak for the entire pro-choice movement. I ask him to speak for himself. I ask anyone else reading here to answer as well. But I'd like some arguments backing up your position. Why and why not?

Charles D said...

I don't think many women choose to abort easily. Most wrestle with that decision and some regret it deeply. It is a consequence, not an avoidance.

Teenage sex will occur whether implicit approval is there or not, so we need to think seriously about how to deal with the consequences of that sex. If you believe in reducing the number of abortions, it makes a lot more sense to insure that our teenagers have real sex information (not the misinformation many receive from TV or peers) and access to contraception. They are going to have sex anyway, because they are immature, often irresponsible, live in a highly sexualized culture,and are full of raging hormones. Let's not worry about "implicit approval", let's worry about unwanted pregnancy.

I will never have the choice to abort a fetus inside my body, but I would certainly support any female's right to make a decision without government intervention at least until such time as the fetus would be able to survive outside the womb without medical intervention. Why? Because the rights of the existing human being are more important than the rights of an incipient human being. While I can empathize with your strong opposition to abortion, I emphatically do not believe the government should intervene in this decision. The woman should make this decision with her physician, her family and sexual partner, and others to whom she looks for guidance.

Anonymous said...

So, your wife is 3 months pregnant, and then decides that she's not really interested in becoming a mother because her career might be damaged...she chooses to abort the baby. And you are going to support her decision? HONESTLY??? Make it are you really going to feel?

Free clinics give away free birth control. Those low-income families you talk about??? They are probably on state assistance, and the state would love to give them birth control for free in order to hinder the birth of more children they would have to potentially support. I think that contraception is more readily available than you think. I participated in a marathon a few months ago which was raising money for non-profit organizations in the community, and right there at one of the booths for planned parenthood was a bowl of condoms free to anyone passing by. I work in social services and am greatly aware of the resources available to those that are in need.

I know that Cameron wants to stay on track with the matter of "is it a human or is it just a fetus"...:o) I appreciate that, it just seems that the purpose of the abortion should be expressly used for those unusual circumstances involving death and not a "mistaken pregnancy"

Democracy Lover states that "no one could be more sensitive to the interests of the mother than she herself." That's totally inaccurate. Mostly it is from selfish desires and reasons that a child is aborted.

Charles D said...


As hard as it is for you to believe, I would support my wife in that situation, assuming we discussed it openly and honestly together.

Your condescension toward the poor is hardly admirable, besides being disingenuous. You cannot work against sex education and condom distribution then say abortion is unnecessary because you haven't yet succeeded.

You want to stigmatize and stereotype women who choose to end their pregnancies without statistics to back up your assertions. I don't know what "most women" who choose abortion feel or think, and I doubt you do either. At least they are grappling with the choice and have first-hand knowledge of the situation. They aren't sitting in judgment from a distance based on their prejudices.

Anonymous said...

What's the difference between a "life form" and a "human"? What makes it okay to kill one and not the other?

I could insert statistic after statistic about the negative affects of abortion. But, it would take extra time and effort since I am not a professional blogger, and would it really make any difference? Probably not.

I work for and assist those that come from all walks of life. Many with no money in their pocket. So, for you to judge me and my so called "condescension" towards those with less is VERY inaccurate. My point to you was that there are resources available. Many pro-choice people fail to fully recognize all that is out there. Those in favor of abortion continually argue about the lack of sex education and availability of birth control, when there really has been a HUGE increase over the last 20 years, especially the last 10. Perhaps 30 years ago subjects such as condoms were taboo, but that is no longer the case. The Trojan man is on the radio quite often. :o) Perhaps in other countries there is a problem, but here in the good ole' USA we are passing out birth control like candy. Your 13 year old could walk down to the local county health department have an exam, and be put on birth control for free, and you would never be told about. On the flip side, she could also go to an abortion clinic and have an abortion and you would never be told about it.

And as for your wife...she doesn't have to openly discuss it with you. She can have that abortion without telling you. Is that okay? You are the father. Shouldn't you have a say? These type of circumstances happen all the time.

To give such a blanket freedom as pro-choice allows for so many scenarios of "what ifs". There is some good in the pro-choice movement. Sometimes it is a matter of life and death. But, these types of abortions are done in extremely rare circumstances. Most people are uninformed about abortion and its risks to both physical and mental health. So, how do you enact a law that is allowed for such restricted circumstances or population?

Charles D said...


I would hope as a husband and father that my wife or daughter would feel comfortable confiding in me, knowing I would support her decision. Many wives and daughters have no hope of such a conversation. Because they have a rigid authoritarian father or husband, they know that their feelings and their needs will not be taken into account but that a decision will be forced upon them.

Because we cannot mandate good families and good relationships, we need to insure that girls and women have options available to them regardless of their home situation. When we mandate parental consent, we are assuming that the girl has responsible, understanding parents and that is so often not the case.

Given the problems our society is experiencing from "throw-away" children born to mothers who cannot or will not care for them properly, it makes good sense to keep abortion safe and legal.