CL Response: Partial-Birth Abortion

 

1996

 

From the very beginning of the public debate over partial-birth abortions, many traditional adversaries in previous abortion debates have found common ground. The abortion debate in this country has often broken down over key paradigms of how to protect critical human interests. Using the "rights" language that sets parent against fetus in a competition over whose power will be paramount and whether power will be equalized in the decision-making process has often separated potential allies who would seek to protect the fabric of life from all forms of violence. 

 

Rights language is quite effective in protecting the dignity of the individual from the potential violence of the state. It is not always so helpful in protecting relationships between people because it is focused on power, on win or lose. Out of the social fabric of community, it is not the language of dialogue, relationship building, community building.

 

So "right-to-lifers" will insist on the rights of the human fetus as against the parent or any other agent who wishes to abort him/her. "Right-to-choosers" will insist on the rights of the mother or parents to make the decision, unencumbered by burdens or regulations set by the state.

A conflict is established and no public policy has yet to be articulated that has satisfied the differing sides.

 

The partial-birth abortion ban, however, has brought many from both sides together around a common cause. The procedure at issue does not passively abort a fetus at some indeterminate moment of fetal development. For the first clear time in memory, at issue is the direct taking of the life of a nearly fully-formed fetus who may well be viable. All of the wraps of ambiguity are removed in this clear policy issue. Even abortion rights activists paused and began pondering the limits on when fetal life can be taken with moral and legal impunity. The abstract conversation about rights on both sides came to an abrupt end in the face of the direct taking of the life of a nearly born fetus. The very raising of the question seemed to sober everyone in the debate as the realization emerged of how far we had come in society. Even the calmest of voices began wondering whether the procedure verges on open infanticide.

 

The medical response began to obfuscate the question again as voices for the professions began arguing that the state should not be second-guessing physicians in their diagnoses and treatment plans. A committee of the American Medical Association came forward and stated that this "medical treatment" was not medically necessary even though the full body would not endorse the conclusion.

 

Well over a million unborn lives are aborted each year in the United States. Not only should the brutality of the partial-birth abortion procedure be banned from the United States by law, but hopefully the debate itself will help our nation better come to see that fetal life is of the very same fabric as the life that pulses in the veins of all of us. Our cavalier dismissal of this life as the object of a "rights" analysis crushes in the face of the partial-birth abortion debate because suddenly we all realize how far we have come in trivializing fetal life. The social violence with which we have so easily come to the termination of well over a million fetuses each year without adequate comment must continue to give us pause even after the partial-birth abortion ban has been decided upon. Do we value, honor, treasure, protect the renewal of our human life that comes to us in the precious gift of each fetus, or have our abstract analyses and public arguments of these decades deadened us to the growing violence of our social choice for abortion on demand? Failure to pass and sign the partial-birth abortion ban is unthinkable to us as proponents of a consistent ethic of life.

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