Keep it legal, keep it safe


Published October 9, 2003

This past Sunday, demonstrators seeking to eliminate the legality of abortions held rallies around the country in moral protest. The protests are an annual event organized by the Pro-Life Action Network, and they came at a time when both the state of Michigan and the federal government are considering legislation to ban late-term abortions. The Michigan Senate voted last week to approve a bill prohibiting late-term abortions. The state House passed the same bill earlier this year. The legislation was then sent to Gov. Jennifer Granholm, who has not yet taken action on the bill. Her options include signing it into law and vetoing it altogether.

At the federal level, the U.S. House of Representatives also voted for a bill to prohibit late-term abortions. While it is expected to follow suit, the U.S. Senate has yet to schedule a vote on the issue. If passed, President Bush intends to sign the bill into law. These efforts to impose limitations on late-term abortions are part of the drive by abortion opponents to overturn the landmark 1973 U.S. Supreme Court decision in Roe v. Wade, which confirmed that women have a legal right to an abortion.

The debate around abortion, particularly late-term abortion, is in dire need of clarification. Late-term abortion, despite claims to the contrary from those who oppose the procedure, is safe and generally used only under circumstances in which a woman's life or health is in danger. But the real issue is not late-term abortion in and of itself; late-term abortion is just the fulcrum opponents of legal abortion are using to gain leverage. If the federal government - or even the state government - proscribes late-term abortions, it will mark a defeat for defenders of women's reproductive rights.

While at this point, the future of the legality of late-term abortions is uncertain, a number of organizations that advocate abortion rights are planning to challenge the legislation on constitutional grounds as soon as Bush signs it into law. These groups include the Center for Reproductive Rights and the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the National Abortion Federation, an organization that represents abortion providers. In 2000, the Supreme Court struck down a Nebraska law similar to the current federal legislation citing the fact that the law did not make exceptions for the health of the pregnant woman and that the law was too ambiguous in defining the banned procedure.

A federal ban on late-term abortion would curtail women's choices for safe abortion procedures. History shows that women who want or need abortions and have the necessary resources will find ways to get them whether or not they are legal. Keeping the procedures legal is the only way to keep the procedure regulated and safe. It is for this reason that Granholm should veto the Michigan legislation, and it is for the same reasons, the U.S. Senate should vote down the federal bill. Abortion procedures, especially those used for the purpose of protecting a woman's health, should remain legal and safe.