Thursday, April 19, 2007

Abortion ban

The US Supreme Court has voted to uphold the federal Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003. The decision is "the first in which the court has upheld a ban on a specific method of abortion".

The decision is pretty, well, stupid for many different reasons, not least of which is that Justice Kennedy, who wrote the majority opinion, "said that pregnant women or their doctors could assert an individual need for a health exception by going to court to challenge the law as it applied to them." Because when you're gravely ill and need a termination, you definitely time to wait around for the Supreme Court to make up its mind. Norma Leah McCorvey, more famously known as the 'Roe' in Roe v. Wade, waited three years for her case to go before the Court. In the meantime, she of course had given birth - bit hard to get access to an abortion when your daughter is 3 years old. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsurg quite rightly points out, this is unrealistic and "gravely mistaken".

Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissenting opinion is incredible (and yes, I have enough time on my hands now to read dissenting Supreme Court opinions - you too can experience the fun here; the dissenting opinion starts on page 49 of the pdf). She methodically goes through all of her objections to the Court's ruling, labelling the justifications used to avoid including any exception to protect a woman's health "flimsy and transparent". As she so rightly points out,
The law saves not a single fetus from destruction, for it targets only a method of performing abortion...the procedures deemed acceptable might put a woman's health at greater risk.
She goes on to say that
Eliminating or reducing women's reproductive choices is manifestly not a means of protecting them. When safe abortion procedures cease to be an option, many women seek other means to end unwanted or coerced pregnancies.
She's particularly hard on the sections of the majority opinion that seek to 'protect' women and their 'fragile states' from any emotional pain because of the "bond of love the mother has for her child." As she says,
This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution - ideas that have long since been discredited.
She quotes some past Supreme Court decisions that make this evolution in beliefs clear. I particularly liked this one, from the 1873 decision Bradwell v. State:
Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life...The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother.
I could go on quoting her opinion for a very long time, but instead I'll just leave you with this, her final paragraph:
In sum, the notion that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act furthers any legitimate governmental interest is, quite simply, irrational. The Court's defense of the statute provides no saving explanation. In candor, the Act, and the Court's defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court - and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives.

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