Last Thursday, the U.S. Senate was the latest battleground of the reproductive rights conflict, firing a decisive opening shot when it passed a bill banning the intact dilation and extraction procedure rarely used now to end a pregnancy, colloquially known as partial birth abortion.

A bill similar to the Senate’s will likely pass in the House, a body commonly called a conservative rubber stamp, and President Bush has already said that he will sign the law, making it illegal for the procedure to be used unless the life of the mother is jeopardized by carrying the fetus to term.

The Republican-led effort to ban the procedure should signal to all that the GOP fight against reproductive rights will be fought in various arenas; it will come from many angles, and will not simply struggle to directly overturn the increasingly tenuous decision in 1973’s Roe v. Wade U.S. Supreme Court opinion. Evidence of this Republican multi-part offensive can be found in the dilation-and-extraction bill neglecting to include an amendment that would have mandated that Health Maintenance Organizations cover the cost of contraceptives. These forces seem intent on population growth, refusing to give women certain options once pregnant and precluding the proliferation of pregnancy-preventive products.

Earlier last week, the Senate did pass a non-binding resolution endorsing Roe v. Wade and encouraging that its principles remain intact; however, that action seems like a token gesture, and a deceptive shroud, as more and more is done, and likely will be done, to limit access to medical procedures and contraceptives. Already, there are strong movements to implement national limits as to where women can go when they need medical assistance and who can decide if a woman can end her pregnancy.

Far more insidious were Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s remarks following Thursday’s vote. Frist (R-Tenn.), a heart surgeon, said that the dilation and extraction procedure was “brutal and barbaric and morally offensive to the mainstream medical community.”

Frist’s comments illustrate how easily the line between medicine and politics can be blurred; he is not a universally-recognized spokesperson for the medical community and has a number of equally-qualified detractors, yet he still spoke as though his professional viewpoint were an industry standard. His stewardship of the legislation, sponsored by Sen. Rick Santorum (R-Penn.), and subsequent comments set a dangerous precedent; Frist seems willing to misuse his position as a physician – abusing the public’s trust – to advance the political goals of his party. This assertion does not suggest that fine doctors cannot harbor certain beliefs, but instead, Frist’s vocational training may lend his political stances an unwarranted authoritative quality.

Those interested in protecting women’s reproductive rights have a formidable foe who’s following a deft strategy, and he and his people have won the first battle.

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