When I opened my e-mail Tuesday evening, I
found a sardonic pair of forwards. The first bore the title “It’s
good to be a woman” and the second the headline “Senate passes
‘partial birth’ abortion ban.” While the former was a
cliché-ridden list of reasons the X chromosome is preferable
to the Y – apparently there really are times when chocolate can
solve all my problems – the latter was a bitter reminder that
navigating life as a woman is not always easy or fair.
The Senate’s passage of this long-debated and twice-vetoed
abortion ban is a regrettable step backward for reproductive
rights. When President Bush signs the bill into law, as he has
piously sworn to do, the right to chose will be severely
restricted. For the first time since the landmark Roe v. Wade
ruling in which the Supreme Court cautiously protected reproductive
rights, a president will criminalize an abortion procedure and
doctors performing so-called “partial birth” abortions will be
subject to a two-year prison term.
Aside from a clear intent to undermine reproductive rights
beyond this particular procedure, this ban commits three
predictable offenses. First, the bill legitimizes a politically
fabricated and alarmist term for a recognized medical procedure.
Few doctors – other than the one in the Senate – use the term
“partial birth abortion” as it was created to rouse gratuitous
emotion from the American public. While every political coalition
uses rhetoric to advance its agendas, our elected officials ought
to refrain from propagating such misleading language in
Accordingly, the second common complaint about this bill rises
from its inadequate definition of “partial birth.” Many doctors
have complained that Congress’ definition is imprecise and,
ultimately, ineffective. In using rousing but simplistic language,
authors of the ban have created more questions than answers.
The third standard critique of this bill is that it does not
include an exception for the health of the mother. The ban’s
proponents argue that extensive evidence shows how the banned
procedure is never used to ensure the life and health of the
mother. If that were so, why wouldn’t the bill’s sponsors include
an exception just to make moderates and the U.S. Supreme Court
happy? Given that the U.S. Supreme Court will likely find the law
unconstitutional because of the lack of an exception, I can’t help
but wonder what pro-lifers gain in taking the hard line and in
demonstrating an utter lack of interest in the mother’s well
Though these three critiques are arguably the most prominent in
the discussion surrounding this ban, they are just distractions.
They are common complaints and they have common rebuttals. These
issues effectively divert the attention of pro-choicers from a more
substantial challenge that ought to be presented to pro-lifers: Why
aren’t you trying to punish women? If abortion is so egregious a
crime, why aren’t you going after those who demand it?
I cannot decipher how pro-lifers reconcile their need to end
abortion with their refusal to condemn those who seek and obtain
it. In the War on Drugs, law enforcement officers arrest and
prosecute users and addicts along with their providers, the
dealers. We know that only targeting the dealers won’t stop the
drug trade, so how can targeting only doctors stop abortion? Maybe
the pro-life coalition believes women need not be prosecuted
because of they’ve already suffered so much and must deal with the
daily guilt – but I think not. They aren’t irrational enough to
believe that every woman who has abortion has a spiritual
reformation the next day.
The truth is that pro-lifers know they are fighting a losing
battle and they know the American public would never accept a law
that condemned women for making difficult decisions. Thus, today,
we have a bill that attacks the less sympathetic of the actors –
the doctors – because they are the only people left to attack.
Pro-lifers can see in the collective American subconscious what
many of us cannot. They see that Americans won’t condemn their
mothers, sisters, aunts, wives and friends for acting out of
necessity. They see that reproductive rights are closer to the
hearts of Americans than even the pro-choicers recognize. They see
that reproductive rights are, thankfully, here to stay.
It looks like I won’t need that chocolate bar after all.