Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Abortion and the Democrats: Odd bedfellows

Older Daughter, a nursing student these days, was home recently for a wedding.

She and her Boyfriend were sitting in the living room with Long Suffering Spouse and me. I was making small talk with the Boyfriend when I noticed Older Daughter pulling something out of her purse and waving it around in front of my wife's widening eyes.

My eyesight is not what it was. Across the room, without my glasses, it looked like Older Daughter was waving a panty liner. I harrumphed. Daughters may need to discuss intimate things with their mothers, but not while the menfolk are within earshot... or line of sight.

But Older Daughter wasn't waving what I thought she was. It was a diaper. A teeny, tiny disposable diaper she was given at the completion of her neonatal rotation. She explained that, even at this tiny size, she had to fold the diaper in half to get it to fit on the preemie she cared for during much of that rotation.

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This is a picture of Amillia Sonja Taylor, posed next to a fountain pen. This is a small baby. At least at the time of this report (posted on the website of the CBS Miami affiliate), this was the smallest preemie ever to survive. Born at less than 22 weeks' gestation, she weighed less than 10 ounces and was only 9½ inches long at delivery. She was kept in the hospital for four months before being released to her parents in February 2007.

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Roe v. Wade, 410 U.S. 113 (1973) (the link will take you only to the majority opinion, but you can navigate from there to the concurrence and dissent) was still pretty new when I was in law school, 31 years ago. The question of what state regulations on the abortion procedure would survive judicial review was quite fresh and was the general topic one day in our 1L Constitutional Law course at my nominally Catholic law school. The specific topic was whether a statute requiring that a father be notified before his child was aborted could be constitutional.

I didn't jump up and down and wave Rosary beads. I didn't yell 'abortion is murder' or otherwise try and disrupt the class. But I did ask, when called upon, whether it was reasonable that, since the father had something to do with the beginning of the pregnancy, he ought to have some say in how the pregnancy ends.

After class, another student came up to me and asked me, in all seriousness (law students being particularly serious people), "Are you really this reactionary, or were you just playing devil's advocate in there?"

Those were the exact words he used and they are seared in my memory. My classmate was articulating what has become the standard Democratic response to any criticism of abortion on demand: Anyone who challenges this "right" is a "reactionary."

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If this is an extreme position, there is a counter-extreme, too, and some of the most extreme of these counter-extremists claim membership in the same Catholic Church to which I belong. But, as I understand it (and I claim no special expertise) a principal objection that these people have to some forms of birth control is that these methods prevent a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterine wall. I don't know whether this objection can be appropriately extended to all forms of "the Pill" or even the extent to which the question of which birth control methods permit fertilization but prevent the attachment of the fertilized egg to the uterine wall has been subjected to rigorous scientific inquiry.

But I must admit a certain undeniable logic in this extremist position: Nothing other than a fertilized egg can become a human. I do know that at some point in fetal development, that tiny spark of life becomes imbued with an entirely human will to survive. Like Amillia Sonja Taylor, pictured above, or the slightly 'older' preemie for which my daughter cared during her neonatal nursing rotation. Since we don't know where that point is, it is understandable that some people insist that it is wrong to terminate fetal development at even the earliest stages.

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There is also the 'collision course' with science which Justice Sandra Day O'Connor predicted for Roe. Premature babies can be born and hospital staffs will fight for them, while anxious parents hope and pray and exhort from as close to the incubator as they are allowed to stand. Such children are fervently "wanted." But other 'fetuses,' some even more mature than these preemies fighting to survive, may be aborted. Maybe, sometimes, because it is sadly necessary to save the mother's life. But, sometimes, perhaps, simply because their parents don't want them.

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The Democratic nominee (and the almost certain winner a week from today), Senator Obama, has come out strongly against restrictions on abortion. Let me quote from the Wikipedia entry on the Freedom of Choice Act (footnotes and internal links omitted):
The Freedom of Choice Act (H.R. 3719/S. 2020) is a bill in the United States Congress which, if enacted, would abolish all restrictions and limitations on the right of women in the United States to have an abortion, whether at the State or Federal level. Sponsored in the House of Representatives by Congressman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., and originally co-sponsored by Congressman James Greenwood, R-Penn., Congresswoman Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y., and Congresswoman Diana Degette, D-Colo., and in the Senate by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and originally co-sponsored by Sen. Jon Corzine, D-N.J., Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., Sen. Frank Lautenberg, D-N.J., Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., Sen. Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., Sen. Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., Sen. Diane Feinstein, D-Calif., Sen. Paul Sarbanes, D-Md., and Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., the bill was introduced in the United States House of Representatives on Jan. 21, 2004, and in the United States Senate on Jan. 22, 2004. The bills were referred to the Judiciary Committees of their respective Houses. Neither bill has received further action.

Described by NARAL Pro-Choice America president Nancy Keenan as a bill to "codify Roe v. Wade," opponents of the bill assert that that it would, if passed, invalidate every restriction on the abortion of a fetus before the stage of viability, even those previously found consistent with Roe v. Wade by the United States Supreme Court, such as parental notification laws, waiting periods, requirements of full disclosure of the physical and emotional risks inherent in abortion, or restrictions on certain late-term abortion techniques. Opponents further assert that it would challenge the ability of religiously-based hospitals or clinics to refuse to perform abortions, and that it would force the repeal of the Hyde Amendment, which restricts the use of Federal funding for abortions. Conservative legal scholar Douglas Kmiec disagrees with the latter assertion, noting that the Hyde Amendment is renewed annually by Congress and arguing that this legislation would not supercede it.

Sen. Barack Obama, D-Ill., the Democratic 2008 Presidential candidate, became a co-sponsor of the 2007 Senate version of the bill (S. 1173). Responding to a question regarding how he would preserve reproductive rights in a speech given to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund on July 17, 2007, he declared "The first thing I'd do, as president, is sign the Freedom of Choice Act. That's the first thing that I'd do."
I don't think Wikipedia is considered a pawn of the Religious Right or a Vatican mouthpiece. I realize that Wikipedia can be, and has been, compromised from time to time. But I think this entry is consistent with what I've seen elsewhere in reputable publications.

And I don't understand it.

America has, in its short history, generally resisted extremes. When the Clintons tried to recast their position on abortion as one which keeps the procedure 'safe, legal, and rare,' many people cheered. As one article I read recently put it, Americans frown on abortion but are too pragmatic to ban the procedure entirely.

This, I do understand.

But Senator Clinton is listed as a co-sponsor of the "Freedom of Choice" Act... which apparently would deny all efforts to curtail the availability of the procedure, under any circumstances, for any reason, or even for no reason at all.

I do not understand how a political party, the Democratic Party, that claims to be the champion of the underprivileged and the voice of the voiceless, can turn its back so completely on the unborn. But the least little whispered protest against abortion on demand is heresy and virtually fatal to advancement in the Democratic Party. Dick Durbin, who once was regarded as at least moderately "pro-life," found this out. He recanted his heresy and moved from the House of Representatives to the U.S. Senate from Illinois. He, too, is on the ballot here next week and will almost certainly win in a landslide.

We live in a time when activists want to confer 'rights' on chimpanzees and dolphins and even on cattle. Can there be no rational consideration of whether an unborn human child might also have some rights?

6 comments:

Ellee Seymour said...

I remember reading about how this issue influenced the way women in America voted in the last election. I'm sure it will do again. It is a very emotive subject.

Empress Bee (of the High Sea) said...

i guess to them it would depend on when a "fetus" becomes a baby?

smiles, bee
tyvc

Sarge Charlie said...

this is an excellent post. Obama could learn from you.

Shelby said...

MOST excellent post. This is PRECISELY the issue to MANY democrats that I know in the south. It is THE number one determining factor in voting to these guys and gals that are my peers and my parents' peers. To kill or not to kill - if you do, you'll not be voted for. If you don't, you'll get the vote.

I'm not so sure that Obama will win. He might.

McCain might surprise us all. Hope is alive and well.

But, at least Mr. Hillary Clinton's wife won't be the leader of the free world.

Shelby said...

I linked to your post as my next in the series of 1,000 posts to read before you die..

Ironic, that the first post of yours that I shared as one of the 1,000 posts to read before you die - was about Obama. And this, the next is about - well, Obama.

Rob said...

I guess I fall significantly more in the "pro-lifer" camp, but I'm also realistic enough to know that absolutes never work on topics of this magnitude.

Maybe this is a bit off-topic from your intended focal-point of this post, but something that's always been a bit of a head-scratcher to me is where male politicians get off feeling that they have the frame of reference to be the final authorities on this matter. Man, if you don't have a womb, how can you possibly have sufficient perspective to establish what those who do can legally do with the contents of theirs? Sure, guys are welcome to have an opinion on abortion, but they shouldn't be the primary decision-makers regarding a situation that they cannot possibly ever personally experience. How presumptuous and arrogant is that?