Author: Choicematters

Abortion / Breast Cancer Link Is Anti-Choice Propaganda

Anti-choice advocates have been irresponsibly touting a link between abortion and breast cancer for years. Careless scientists have published questionable studies which anti-choice politicians have used as excuses to pass hostile legislation. Currently Louisiana, Kansas, and Mississippi have bills mandating doctors to warn patients of an increased risk of breast cancer before giving abortions. Enforcement of a similar law in Montana awaits the outcome of litigation.This manipulation of science into scaring women who are already in a difficult situation is not only cruel, but it is scientifically unfounded. What these scholars fail to account for in their analysis is an effect called the “recall bias” which caused healthy women to under-report their abortions, while breast cancer survivors are more likely to report their abortions.

In fact, the early abortion pill mifepristone is showing positive effectsin the treatment of a wide range of life-threatening diseases and medical conditions. Diseases and conditions showing positive reactions to the pill include certain types of breast and ovarian cancers, brain and spinal cord tumors, endometriosis, Cushing’s Syndrome, and HIV. If anti-choice propagandists were truly interested in women’s health, they might better spend their energy and funds on research for this life-saving drug instead of pushing traumatic and medically inaccurate propaganda.

A major study by Joel Brind of Baruch University purports to show a link between breast cancer and abortion using analysis from twenty-eight different reports dated between 1957 and 1996 and required women to report their abortions to the researchers. Brind’s researchers concluded that women who reported at least one abortion had a 30% higher risk of contracting breast cancer. If true, this would mean that 4,700 to 30,000 breast cancer cases diagnosed annually could be attributable to induced abortion. In fact, this study is deeply flawed in its research methodology because of its use of unreliable statistics.

A study done by Lindefors-Harrisin Sweden in 1989 showed that breast cancer patients were 50% more likely to report their abortions than healthy women. This recall bias could explain the findings of previous researchers, and nullify the finding that abortions increased the risk of breast cancer. In a study done in Denmark, researchers eliminated recall bias by using national registries and the Civil Registration System to link the rates of breast cancer in women who had abortions. The findings showed no link between the number of induced abortions, whether or not women had a full-term pregnancy before or after an abortion, or the number of induced abortions. The study did find a link between gestational age and breast cancer only if the abortion was performed after 18 weeks of pregnancy, which was a very small pool of subjects.

The so-called scientific basis for a link between breast cancer and abortion sounds plausible even though it is easily refuted. At conception, progestational hormones are released which cause the milk ducts of the breasts to branch and form terminal end buds, which form the alveolar buds that create the milk-producing glands called acini. This is the period where scientists believe the cells are most likely to be affected by carcinogens. After a full-term pregnancy, hormonal changes occur which reduce the risk of breast cancer.

Karin Michelsof the Harvard School of Public Health summarizes this phenomenon in her report on breast cancer and abortion: “Because pregnancy appears to increase the short-term risk of breast cancer, but to decrease long-term risk, we are interested in whether a prematurely terminated pregnancy might share one or both of these effects. In fact, in appears that there is no overall effect on breast cancer risk from abortions.” In light of the multiple studies finding no conclusive evidence that would show a link between abortions and increased risk of abortion, the recent bills requiring doctors to warn abortion recipients of this link are undoubtedly politically motivated and insensitive to the difficult choices these women are facing.

A report prepared by WCLA college intern, July 2001

Under the Knife and the Cross

A Wave of Catholic Hospital Mergers Is Curtailing Medical Services, Especially for Women

Susan Jacoby is a freelance writer and former reporter for the Washington Post. A fellow at the Center for Scholars and Writers of the New York Public Library, she is working on a book on antireligious dissent in American history.

Elizabeth Lindenberg, a teacher and mother in St. Petersburg, Florida, was 46 when she learned that she was carrying a fetus with Down syndrome and decided to end the pregnancy. Lindenberg did not know that her private choice would set off a long battle over the Roman Catholic Church’s attempts to impose its rules on the non-sectarian hospital where her abortion was performed.

The conflict in St. Petersburg was precipitated by one of the least-publicized developments in American medical care of the past decade — a nationwide wave of profit-driven mergers between Catholic and non-Catholic hospitals. The mergers have forced many non-Catholic institutions to operate under health care guidelines issued by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. These guidelines have already restricted access to reproductive health services, but they also have major implications for other forms of medical care and research.

The bishops’ “Ethical and Religious Directives for Catholic Health Care Services” not only prohibit abortion but the prescription of contraceptives (including the “morning-after” pill to rape victims), many infertility treatments, voluntary sterilization, and most embryonic stem-cell and fetal-tissue research.

This June, the American bishops revised the directives, first issued in 1994, in a move to tighten restrictions on both Catholic and non-Catholic partner institutions. In one major change pushed by the Vatican, the bishops ratified a provision denouncing elective sterilization as “intrinsically evil.”

But even before the revision, the Catholic rules had far-reaching consequences. Lindenberg’s 1997 abortion was performed shortly after St. Petersburg’s taxpayer-supported Bayfront Medical Center entered an economic partnership with two Catholic hospitals. Her procedure enraged local Catholic authorities and set off a chain of events that forced Bayfront not only to stop abortions but also to abide by all of the bishops’ guidelines.

It took a three-year fight, including separate lawsuits filed by the city and four public interest groups, to free Bayfront from the controversial consortium and restore a full range of reproductive health services.

Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC), a group opposed to Vatican positions on abortion and contraception, estimates that approximately 159 such mergers have gone through in communities from California to Florida since 1990.

According to a report last year by the Alan Guttmacher Institute, an organization that focuses on reproductive health research, Catholic hospitals make up the single largest group of American nonprofit hospitals. These institutions account for approximately 17 percent of hospital admissions annually.

CFFC estimates that at least half of all mergers have led to significant restrictions on reproductive health services in the non-Catholic hospitals.

Enforcement of the Catholic rules varies considerably because some American bishops adhere far more strictly than others to Vatican orthodoxy. The recent toughening of the ethical guidelines is seen by many observers as an attempt to crack down on bishops lenient with non-Catholic partner hospitals that provide the prohibited reproductive health services.

“The impact is especially serious because all consumer health care choices are already being restricted by managed care,” says Lois Uttley, director of MergerWatch, an Albany-based project funded by Family Planning Advocates of New York State. “It’s just not easy today for the average person to take her business to another doctor or another hospital if she learns that certain medical services will no longer be provided.”

The official Roman Catholic position on the mergers is difficult to assess. Representatives of the Conference of Catholic Bishops generally refuse to be quoted by any publication or television program that also features the views of Catholics for a Free Choice — a group that considers itself the “loyal opposition” but has been sharply criticized by the Church hierarchy. The Conference’s press office failed to respond to five interview requests for this article.

“Attempts to tar opponents of these hospital mergers as ‘anti-Catholic’ are totally misguided,” says Rob Boston, a spokesman for Americans United for Separation of Church and State (a plaintiff in the St. Petersburg lawsuit). “Some of the most outspoken opponents are, in fact, Catholics who don’t agree with the leadership of their Church on such matters as contraception and abortion — or with attempts to make non-Catholics adhere to the bishops’ religious convictions.”

“Catholic bishops have no more right to make medical decisions for me than I do for them.”

At the local, state and national level, public interest groups — including Americans United, Planned Parenthood, the National Organization for Women and the National Women’s Law Center — have formed coalitions to oppose the mergers. MergerWatch serves as a national resource center for such groups.

These citizen groups are mounting legal challenges to the mergers through the First Amendment, federal anti-trust laws (on grounds that the mergers are creating local health care monopolies), and charitable trust restrictions (which sometimes specify as a condition of the original endowment that a hospital must carry out its functions in a nonsectarian way).

“Typically, these arrangements used to become a fait accompli before the public knew what was going on,” says Uttley. “Only later did the full impact, on medical staff as well as patients, become clear. What we’re trying to do is help local organizations to intervene earlier — to make sure that health care rights aren’t abrogated in backdoor deals from which the public is excluded.”

Lindenberg, for instance, knew nothing of the controversy created by her decision to end her pregnancy until an on-staff friend told her that she had been criticized at a hospital ethics board meeting. At the meeting, a Catholic nun, who was a member of the committee, successfully demanded an end to all abortions at Bayfront.

“My name was actually revealed and my most personal choice denigrated by strangers,” says Lindenberg, who was raised Episcopalian. “At first I couldn’t believe it, considering that this violated all rules of medical confidentiality. But when I found out it was true, I decided it was time to fight. Catholic bishops have no more right to make medical decisions for me than I do for them.”

Not Just an Abortion Issue

Though publicity concerning hospital mergers tends to focus on abortion, the Church’s potential influence on medical services extends far beyond that issue.

Many Americans are unaware that voluntary sterilization is the leading form of contraception in the U.S., with the birth control pill in second place. Female tubal ligations outnumber male vasectomies, and women’s operations (unlike men’s) must generally be performed in a hospital.

When the bishops recently approved language describing elective sterilization as intrinsically evil, they placed tubal ligations and vasectomies in the same moral category of Church teaching as abortion and euthanasia.

Susan Tew, a spokeswoman for the Guttmacher Institute, explains that sterilization is a particularly popular form of contraception for older women who have all the children they want. “Most women prefer to have the procedure done at the time they deliver their last child,” Tew notes.

The prohibition on sterilization means that a woman must recover first from childbirth and then check herself into another institution for a separate procedure at a later date — running the risk of an unwanted pregnancy in the interim.

That is exactly what happened to a mother of eight in Gilroy, California, who planned to have her tubes tied at South Valley Medical Center after she delivered her ninth child. Unfortunately, South Valley had just been purchased by a nearby Catholic hospital — and permission for the tubal ligation was denied. The mother became pregnant again before she could make arrangements to be sterilized elsewhere.

Susan Berke Fogel, legal director of the California Women’s Law Center, says the Gilroy case illustrates the disproportionate impact these mergers have on poor women. “There are only five OB-GYNs serving a population of 150,000 at the southern end of Santa Clara County,” she explains. “What is a mother with several young children supposed to do with them while she shops around for a hospital 50 miles away to perform a tubal ligation?”

Doctors Trim Their Consciences

Patients aren’t the only ones whose choices are limited by strict enforcement of the Catholic guidelines.

In some areas, medical personnel have been required, as a condition of employment, to sign a statement agreeing to abide by the bishops’ directives.

Dr. William van Druten, a psychiatrist in Duluth, Minnesota, had been on staff at the nonsectarian Duluth Clinic for 31 years when the clinic merged with St. Mary’s Roman Catholic Hospital in 1995. He was then asked to sign a pledge to abide by the Catholic rules.

When he refused to sign the document as written, adding “For Consenting Catholic Patients” in bold block letters, he was informed that his admitting privileges had been terminated. This meant he could no longer supervise his own patients if they needed in-hospital care. Van Druten, who was 63 at the time, opted for early retirement and became a local activist in the campaign against mergers.

When Dr. Goldner tried to have his patient admitted to a local hospital, he was told that the Catholic guidelines prohibited the operation as long as the fetus was technically alive. He then paid his patient’s $80 cab fare for a two-hour ride to the nearest hospital that performed abortions.

“Basically, I was asked to sign a religious loyalty oath,” he says. “I was in a position not to do it because I was so close to retirement age, but for most other doctors and nurses it was a matter of sign or lose your livelihood.”

Van Druten founded a group called Lake Superior Freethinkers, which, along with Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, succeeded this year in jettisoning a proposed merger that would have subjected every hospital in Duluth to the bishops’ guidelines.

At other hospitals where doctors have not been asked to sign pledges, they have frequently found their best medical judgment overruled by the bishops’ rules.

Several years ago, Dr. Wayne Goldner, an OB-GYN in Manchester, New Hampshire, was treating a 35-year-old patient whose cervical membranes ruptured when she was fourteen weeks pregnant. In cases when a woman’s “water breaks” before fetal viability, an immediate therapeutic abortion is necessary. Although the fetus will soon die, the chances of the mother developing a severe infection — and possibly losing her uterus — increase with each day.

When Dr. Goldner tried to have his patient admitted to a local hospital that had recently merged with a Catholic institution, he was told that the Catholic guidelines prohibited the operation as long as the fetus was technically alive. Goldner then paid his patient’s $80 cab fare for a two-hour ride to the Dartmouth Medical Center in Hanover — the nearest hospital that performed abortions.

He and other local citizens took their merger objections to New Hampshire’s attorney general. The attorney general ruled that the non-Catholic hospital, by agreeing to Catholic guidelines, had violated the nonsectarian mission spelled out in its original charitable trust.

Direct Vatican Intervention on the Rise

One stimulus to the spate of legal challenges against the mergers has been the Vatican’s increasing tendency to reverse decisions by bishops who interpreted the health care directives leniently. Observers say the recent toughening of the bishops’ condemnation of sterilization is one more step in that process.

In September 1999, the Sacred Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith in Rome — the body that reviews interpretations by Catholic institutions of the Church’s moral teachings — overruled a decision by the bishop of Little Rock, Arkansas, to continue tubal ligations at a women’s center. The center was leased from a formerly nonsectarian hospital that had recently been purchased by the local Catholic health care system.

In Austin, Texas, Bishop John McCarthy had approved arrangements to continue tubal ligations at a public hospital that had merged with a Catholic institution, when conservative Catholics in his diocese protested to the Vatican. The Sacred Congregation ordered the bishop to discontinue the agreement.

In 1997, the Vatican acted directly for the first time to halt a merger between a Catholic and a non-Catholic hospital in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The unusual decision may have been prompted by the fact that the non-Catholic partner was the highly regarded Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, a longtime leader in reproductive health care.

Many nonsectarian hospital boards have inexplicably caved in to sectarian demands — even when the secular hospital was in the stronger financial position within the partnership.

“Sadly, this shows there are a lot of hospitals that don’t have any strong commitment to reproductive health services,” says the California Law Center’s Fogel. “If there’s money to be made from a merger, throwing reproductive health services away is considered a small price to pay.”

But that isn’t true of every institution. In Lansing, Michigan, Sparrow Hospital — rated in a 3200-hospital survey as one of the top 100 hospitals in the U.S. — merged with a local Catholic health services system in 1997. In contrast to the across-the-board imposition of Catholic guidelines in St. Petersburg, the only demand made upon Sparrow was that abortions no longer be performed in-hospital.

The Sparrow board of directors then established a large fund to facilitate abortion referrals to a local women’s clinic and allowed staff members to provide abortion services outside the hospital. Other reproductive health services, including voluntary sterilization, were maintained, and staff members were not required to sign a pledge agreeing to abide by the bishops’ guidelines.

This March, Sparrow withdrew from the consortium when the locally based health care system merged with a larger statewide Catholic-owned system. Sparrow president and CEO Joseph F. Damore said the action “allows us to keep financial resources right here in Lansing to invest in our healthcare system and to fully control Sparrow’s future in the community.”

Since the Vatican has already intervened to overturn local agreements similar to the one Sparrow had formed, there was no guarantee that the larger health care system would have allowed the hospital as much leeway as the local Catholic system had.

Indeed, the June revision of the bishops’ health care directives virtually guarantees that the Church will take a second look at partnership agreements designed to preserve flexibility for the non-Catholic partner. The guidelines stipulate, “The Catholic partner in an [economic] arrangement has the responsibility periodically to assess whether the binding agreement is being observed and implemented in a way that is consistent with Catholic teaching” [emphasis added].

Unless a hospital is publicly owned (or strongly supported, as was the case at Bayfront), it is difficult to mount a successful First Amendment challenge to a merger.

Rob Boston, of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, points out that the federal judiciary, which moved to the right as a result of appointments during the Reagan-Bush administrations, has become increasingly resistant to First Amendment challenges based solely on an institution’s receipt of federal funds.

“There usually has to be some direct public support for a First Amendment case to hold up,” he says.

That is why so many public interest groups have turned to federal antitrust laws and charitable trust regulations to overturn mergers.

The California legislature has recently enacted what women’s groups regard as a model law to protect reproductive health care rights. The law requires local hearings whenever a hospital merger is proposed. An independent health impact assessment, specifically addressing reproductive health care, must also be made before the proposed merger is presented to the attorney general.

A key prevision requires health care providers to inform consumers of which health services they will and won’t provide.

“This is absolutely crucial,” says Fogel. “What we’re trying to eliminate are situations in which a woman chooses a doctor and a hospital, assuming that certain services are available, and finds out at a time of need that they aren’t. That’s exactly what happened in Gilroy when a woman who had planned on a tubal ligation was told, at the last minute, ‘Whoops, sorry, we don’t do that anymore. ‘”

Although most court cases have focused on the limitations on reproductive health services, care for the dying may well be the next controversial issue.

What the guidelines don’t spell out could be as important as what they do say. Physician-assisted suicide, only legal in the U.S. in the state of Oregon, is explicitly prohibited (as are all forms of suicide in Catholic teaching). The Oregon law allows doctors to prescribe — but not administer — lethal drugs for terminally ill patients who request them, and whose cases have been extensively reviewed by other medical authorities.

The bishops’ directives are silent on the increasingly common practice of living wills, in which healthy people spell out what type of medical care they want, if any, should they become incompetent to make on-the-spot medical decisions during a terminal illness.

Such wills frequently have provisos forbidding medical institutions to use extraordinary measures — from putting a comatose patient on an artificial respirator to providing nutrition and hydration through a tube — if there is no reasonable hope of recovery.

While Catholic doctrine does not require doctors to use extraordinary means to preserve life, the Church has not yet ruled on whether artificial nutrition and hydration is considered ordinary or extraordinary.

The absence of clear guidelines, according to MergerWatch’s Uttley, raises the possibility that a patient’s written wishes might be disregarded if the bishops decide that discontinuing nutrition and hydration is contrary to Catholic teaching.

In fact, Lindenberg became an activist in the St. Petersburg lawsuit against Bayfront not after her abortion but when, in a completely unrelated incident, she was asked to sign a document revoking any living wills before receiving physical therapy after knee surgery.

One of the most recent successful challenges to a merger occurred in Oregon, where voters, by approving the state’s physician-assisted suicide law, showed that they place a high priority on the expressed wishes of terminally ill patients.

“Whether you’re talking about reproductive health care or care at the end of life, the church-state issue is very clear,” says Elana M. Cohen, senior counsel for the National Women’s Law Center in Washington, DC. “We all have a right to make medical decisions guided by our own ethical and religious convictions and traditions — not someone else’s.”

This story is protected by copyright and cannot be reprinted without the permission of the author.

© 1999-2001 The Florence Fund

The Bad Old Days

By Polly Rothstein

In Connecticut, where I grew up, birth control was illegal. Feminists had lobbied to repeal the law for decades, but lawmakers refused. I wondered how women-in-the-know avoided pregnancy. Some men used condoms (where did they get them?), but many women had shotgun weddings or hid out in homes for unwed mothers. Some got illegal abortions (pregnancy tests took two weeks – after you had missed two periods). One who graduated from high school with me in 1954, her belly-of-shame to big to hide and no ring on her finger, was scorned. I still feel for her.

In 1958, fresh out of college and unworldly, I moved to Cambridge to get a job and share an apartment with my friend X.

Birth control was illegal in Massachusetts, too. X announced that she was pregnant and that neither her psychiatrist nor her gynecologist would arrange a therapeutic abortion (essential for mental or physical health).

Barely able to utter “abortion,” we said, “get rid of it,” and saw no alternative. X called acquaintances for “a name,” any name; qualifications were low priority. One referred us to Dr. Robert Spencer in Ashland, Penn, instructing X to complain of a vaginal discharge. We missed the humor of going from Cambridge to coal country for a vaginal discharge. Dr. Spencer told us the procedure would take two visits, what motel to call, and where to park.

Dr. Spencer’s office was weird – walls and ceilings brimming with souvenir plaques from the gift shops in places like Lake George. One was a drawing of a vase that became the silhouette of two people when you stared at it. We avoided eye contact with the others in the waiting room, all of us too scared, unwilling to swap how-I-got-here stories, seek or give solace, or make small talk. X and I whispered to each other.

Dr. Spencer was white-haired and kindly, but couldn’t ease our fear. He packed X’s vagina with something to dilate her cervix and told us to come back in the morning. I have no memory of the evening. In the morning, I was fearful when Dr. Spencer installed me in a tiny room to wait it out and took X with him. The room had a chair, cot, afghan, and a black paperback, Crimes of Passion. I fantasized telling X’s parents where we were, and why, and that she was dead. Eventually, Dr. Spencer came in with X over his shoulder in a fireman’s carry, out cold. He gently unloaded her on the cot, her eyes rolled back so the whites showed. After she came to and had rested, he checked her and gave her post-op instructions and antibiotics. The entire charge was $50.

Dr. Spencer was the beloved town doctor, protected by the police, and a hero to women around the nation. He’s in all the books about illegal abortions, and is the subject of a new documentary, “Dear Dr. Spencer: Abortion in a Small Town.” His file of requests from desperate women and thanks from women he helped (some still put flowers on his grave) is an education in itself. We realized how lucky we were when we heard horror stories: the difficulties amassing the huge fees the butchers charged, being driven around blindfolded so as not to know where the deed was done, forced sex with the abortionist before he’d get to work, the tied hands and the mouth stuffed to muffle the cries of pain from abortions without anesthesia, the soiled equipment, the hemorrhaging, the lies to the hospital emergency room, and the newspaper reports of women who died trying not to become a mother.

I was married in NY in 1959. Though illegal, birth control was available in NYC, where I had a traumatic visit to Planned Parenthood, which required a doctor’s note affirming I was getting married. Feeling like a loose woman and a liar, I also brought my newspaper engagement notice. If you’re stunned at that, a friend’s story tops it. After being fit for a diaphragm, she watched the doctor poke a hole in it so she could use it only for insertion practice, and return for a new one a day before her wedding.

My question about Connecticut women was answered in 1965 when I volunteered at the Port Chester Planned Parenthood, which had been established so they could beat the system. They took the train to Port Chester, walked to the clinic for an exam and “supplies,” and boarded the train home with the bootleg diaphragm in a plain brown bag.

Also in 1965, the Supreme Court threw out Connecticut’s contraceptive ban, interpreting the Constitution to give married women the right to privacy in such matters. (yes, 1965 and married women only.) In 1972, the Court let single women in on it, and a year later, January 22 1973, ruled in Roe v. Wade that the privacy right included abortion.

Are you surprised at the stories, and how recent reproductive rights are? Do you know that the anti-abortion religions and their legislative accomplices have already limited women’s control over their pregnancies? Do you know you can save our rights by electing pro-choice candidates?

D&E Abortions and Partial Truth

by Polly Rothstein

Abortion rights have been clobbered by a ruse of the National Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Christian Coalition. Departing from their usual attacks on legal abortion and support for restrictions on access, they have attacked a method of abortion, dilation and evacuation. D&E is used in almost all abortions after 12 weeks. The public has been led to believe that the bills in Congress and many state legislatures would ban only the variation called “intact D&E” late in pregnancy, and that other procedures would do just as well. But this bill would ban all D&Es, virtually all of which are perfectly legal abortions in the second trimester abortions.

The bill in Congress is labeled the “Partial-Birth Abortion Act.” “Partial-birth abortion” is a phony term not known in medicine. To protect women, President Clinton vetoed the bill in 1996, and will do so again if both houses pass it. Many states, including New York, have proposed or passed similar bills.

The anti-choice side has made abortion procedures and fetuses the issue, using the most shocking language and ignoring women’s lives and health. While the legislation is deliberately vague, proponents’ rhetoric is clear and wildly inaccurate. The surreal name “partial birth abortions” is a propaganda coup. The pro-choice side, unable to refute such demagoguery in a sound bite, is on the defensive. The public is confused and doesn’t realize that this is a battle in the war against legal abortion.

Most anti-choice legislation has sought to restrict access to abortion. This bill is the first strike at a legal abortion method, and therefore aimed directly at Roe v. Wade. Court challenges could go to the Supreme Court and result in a reversal of Roe, opening the door to a ban on abortions in the states.

In Roe v. Wade, the Supreme Court ruled that abortions in the second trimester may be regulated only to protect the woman’s health. In the third trimester, after viability, states may ban abortions, except where the life or health of the woman is at stake. Third trimester abortions are illegal in NY and most other states. The national standard for viability is 24 weeks. Abortion foes have engineered uncertainty by lumping together second and third trimester abortions, convincing people that healthy women seek and receive “partial-birth abortions” in the final weeks of pregnancy for minor reasons.

Friendly fire has damaged pro-choice credibility. Inexplicably, lobbyist Ron Fitzsimmons “confessed” that most D&Es are done on healthy women and healthy fetuses, as if he were revealing a dirty little secret. He did not make it clear that these were perfectly legal second-trimester abortions. Using Fitzsimmons as a wedge, the House voted in March 1997 to ban “partial birth abortions” by an even larger veto-proof majority than 1996. Westchester Congresswoman Sue Kelly switched her vote to favor the ban, explaining in a letter that she “doesn’t believe that “partial birth abortions” should be an option for healthy mothers carrying healthy fetuses during the late stages of pregnancy.”

Here are some clarifying facts:

  1. This bill would criminalize any procedure where living fetal tissue passes through the the birth canal (cervix), with a very narrow exception to save the woman’s life. The terms are not defined. The sweeping language would apply to all D&Es, requiring doctors to use a procedure that might be less safe for the patient and more likely to compromise her future fertility.
  2. Doctors choose an abortion method for medical reasons based on the individual woman’s body, her health, previous pregnancies, the duration of the pregnancy, and the position and condition of the fetus. Doctors must be free to determine the best method for each patient and change course if complications arise.
  3. In abortions due to fetal defects, it is often necessary to extract the fetus intact in order to study the anomaly and predict the risk of recurrences. That would be a crime, according to this law.
  4. To avoid malpractice suits as well as a federal criminal indictment and possible civil charges, many doctors would simply stop doing second trimester abortions. This “chilling effect” is, of course, a goal of the bills’ sponsors.
  5. The number of abortions by any method are not the issue, but statistics put it in perspective. The federal Centers for Disease Control (CDC) report:
    Post 24-week procedures are done only for compelling medical reasons related to the woman or the fetus. Few of these fetuses could live and some are stillbirths, not abortions.

    90% of abortions are done in the first trimester
    Nearly 10% occur second trimester (from 12-24 weeks)
    5.3% after 16 weeks
    1.3% after 20 weeks
    NYS Health Department figures from 1993 (the most recent) show only .02% of abortions after 24 weeks.
  6. Doctors routinely provide intensive care to ensure the survival of viable fetuses. NYS requires a second doctor to be present in case of a live birth.

The opposition won’t stop using the term “partial birth abortion,” the deceptive rhetoric, or the cartoon drawings of full-term fetuses, but we can insist that the press use the correct medical term, “dilation and evacuation” or “D&E.”

Laws controlling medical practice should never be driven by religious beliefs or a political agenda. Bans on abortion procedures interfere in the doctor-patient relationship and put legislators in the position of making medical decisions they are not competent to make. There is no place for a one-size-fits-all law in medicine and it should never be a crime for a doctor to do the safest procedure for a patient. It is crucial to make it understood that this bill would increase the risk to women and violate Roe v. Wade.

All pro-choice people wish that unwanted pregnancies and medical complications did not occur, and that all abortions took place in the first trimester – but that’s not reality. Some women learn about fetal defects from tests that can’t be performed until the second trimester. And ironically, anti-abortion laws such as denial of Medicaid funding, parental involvement requirements, and waiting periods cause delay in many cases. Even in NY, where we have defeated such restrictions, women may be delayed by scarcity of services nearby and personal circumstances such as late diagnosis of pregnancy, inflexible work schedule, and lack of money, child care, or transportation.

Politicians wrongly believe that the public favors banning intact D&E abortions. Family Planning Advocates of NYS commissioned questions in a poll of likely NYS voters by Zogby International. It found that 71.5% believe “late-term” abortions should continue to be legal if a doctor determines that a woman’s health is at risk, and 76.2% think the decision to have a “partial birth abortion” late in pregnancy is a medical decision that should be made by a woman, her family, and her doctor – not by legislators or the courts.

Lest anyone think otherwise, this battle is part of the plan to end legal abortion in this country. There would be little pro-choice opposition to a bill to ban abortions after viability with exceptions for the life and health of the woman – but the anti-choice forces won’t hear of it because they want to keep the issue alive. Mark Crutcher, president of Life Dynamics, a group that spurs malpractice suits against abortion providers, admitted “the whole issue is a scam being perpetrated by people on our side of the issue for fund-raising purposes.” The Christian Coalition has already discussed with Speaker Newt Gingrich a series of votes banning abortions in the ninth month, then the eighth month, etc.

On cable television recently, a NYC Christian Coalition leader was asked if the group would be satisfied with banning “partial birth abortions.” She answered that they would not. She said no abortion methods are acceptable because they want to ban all abortions for all women in all stages of pregnancy.

Judge finds no link between abortion and cancer

A North Dakota judge has ruled that there is no established link between abortion and breast cancer. Ruling in favor of the Red River Women’s Clinic (Fargo, ND) After a three-day trial in state court, he asserted that it is reasonable for the clinic to inform patients that there is no evidence of a direct relationship between breast cancer and either induced or spontaneous abortion.

Judge Michael McGuire relied on testimony from leading epidemiology and endocrinology experts who confirmed the statements contained in the clinic’s brochures.

This case may set important precedent for related cases involving the issue of abortion and breast cancer. Expert testimony and judicial opinion are now part of the legal public record.

The lawsuit leading to the trial was filed in 1999 by former Fargo resident Amy Jo Kjolsrud, who said information in the brochures was misleading to patients. A similar lawsuit was filed against Planned Parenthood of San Diego by John Kindley, who represented Kjolsrud in the Fargo trial. The California case was dismissed before going to trial.
For a special report on this case and its implications may be found on the website of the Center for Reproductive Law and Policy (CRLP). CRLP has also posted legal briefs and scientific background.

The attempt to frighten women into believing that abortion might be unsafe is a common – and cruel – tactic used by anti-choice bullies. See PAS — An Anti-Choice Sickness in the Spring 2002 issue of WCLA’s newsletter, ProChoice, for a chronicling of the invention of a fictitious post-abortion sickness syndrome by irresponsible anti-choice practitioners.

Legal Abortion: Arguments Pro & Con

This piece was written almost 30 years ago and should be considered to be a historical document. However, instead, most points are still relevant today.

Anti-Choice (RTL) Pro-choice
Human life begins at conception. Therefore, abortion is murder of a person. Personhood at conception is a religious belief, not a provable biological fact. Mormon and some Fundamentalist churches believe in personhood at conception; Judaism holds that it begins at birth and abortion is not murder; ensoulment theories vary widely within Protestantism. The religious community will never reach consensus on the definition of a “person” or when abortion is morally justified.
Use of the term “pro-abortion” to refer to those who support the right to choose a safe, legal abortion. We are pro-choice. “Pro-abortion” is inaccurate, as it implies favoring abortion over childbirth. We support reproductive freedom, which means that an individual woman should be able to make her own choice.
Use of the term “pro-life” to refer to those who oppose legal abortion. The “pro-life” concerns of abortion foes are only for fetal lives, not the lives of women or unwanted babies. “Pro-life” is a term used to make anti-abortion and anti-choice seem positive and good.
Abortion should not be legal in the U.S. Abortion must be stopped. The right to life must be protected. Laws have never stopped abortion, but only relegated it to back-alley butchers. The hypocrisy is clear: when illegal abortion was the leading killer of pregnant women in the U.S., there was no Right to Life (RTL) organization.
Abortion is morally wrong. Most Americans reject the absolutist position that it is always wrong to terminate a pregnancy and believe that abortion may be the morally right choice under certain circumstances.
If you believe abortion is morally wrong, you are obligated to work to make abortion illegal and unavailable. Many people who are personally opposed to abortion for religious or moral reasons also believe that it is wrong to impose their values by civil law on everyone. You don’t have to like abortion to respect the right of choice.
Legalized abortion is a sign of the moral decay that is destroying America. It is imperative to pass laws to stop this trend. Legislation cannot create morality. Prohibition did not stir moral outrage against drinking; it stirred outrage against Prohibition itself, and promoted widespread disrespect for all laws.
The fetus is in no real sense “part” of the mother, but is a separate and distinct human being. The fetus is totally dependent on the body of the woman for its life support and is physically attached to her by the placenta and umbilicus. The health of the fetus is directly related to the health of the pregnant woman. Only at birth are they separate.
The right of the unborn to live supersedes any right of a woman to “control her own body.” Margaret Sanger said, “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her own body.” This concept is fundamental for women.
Women have abortions for their own convenience or on “whim.” RTL trivializes motherhood and childbirth by dismissing pregnancy as a mere inconvenience. RTL ignores or belittles the needs of the woman and the conflict she endures in making her decision. Guilt is inflicted when compassion is needed.
Pro-abortion people insist that the fetus is nothing but a worthless blob of tissue. They refuse to face the fact that there’s a miniature person in that womb. No thoughtful person denies that the fetus is a potential person and that it looks increasingly human as it develops from a fertilized egg to a full-term fetus ready for birth. What we oppose is stopping legal abortion by legislating personhood at so me moment before birth.
Pictures of highly-developed fetuses, bloody abortions, tiny feet, fetuses in garbage cans; use of words “baby” and “kill.” RTL visual materials are usually grossly enlarged, undocumented and mislabeled. They are cleverly designed to evoke emotions of revulsion against abortion and sympathy toward the fetus.
Pro-abortionists who criticize the Roman Catholic Church are anti-Catholic bigots. It is not bigotry to tell the truth: Diocese funds go directly into anti-abortion activities and the Church is implementing its highly political “Pastoral Plan” to make abortion illegal. Attacking Church leadership in the anti-abortion movement is a far cry from attacking Catholic people, most of whom support freedom of choice.
Pro-abortionists are turning the abortion issue into a religious was by saying that the opposition to abortion comes from religious groups trying to foist their beliefs on the nation. Abortion is a religious issue, because the basis of opposition to abortion is the theological question of when personhood begins. Organized religion, primarily the Catholic Church and the “religious right,” is the backbone of the anti-abortion movement and is a cause for great concern among pro-choice religions, who see anti-abortion laws as a violation of religious liberty.
Abortion is wrong because it is taking a human life. Almost all legislators who oppose abortion rights also support the death penalty. One might ask if they think people who are convicted of murder are no longer human.
Abortion is not mentioned anywhere in the Constitution. Where do pro-abortionists get the idea that abortion is a constitutional right? The Constitution protects various rights that are not specifically mentioned, but are derived, via Supreme Court interpretation, from other rights. Examples of this are the right of free association and the right to distribute printed material. The constitutional right of privacy has been interpreted repeatedly to include matters of marriage, family and sex, specifically “the right to be free from unwarranted governmental intrusion into matters so fundamentally affecting a person as the decision whether to bear or beget a child.”
We must pass a “human life amendment” to the Constitution, declaring the unborn to be full persons from the moment of conception. If “person” were defined as beginning at conception, then abortion would be the crime of murder. Women’s bodies, rights and health would be subordinated to the protection of the embryo. No abortions would be permitted for any reason, including rape or incest. Each miscarriage would have to be investigated. The legal consequences of such an amendment would be catastrophic.
Pro-abortionists argue that under a “human life amendment” women would be prosecuted for murder. Prior to Roe v. Wade in 1973, women weren’t persecuted, abortionists were. Future criminal penalties for abortion would be the same as pr e-1973. State anti-abortion laws prior to Roe V. Wade were not based on fetal personhood. Under a “human life amendment,” we would not be returning to the same legal situation, we would have a whole new body of law, with women and abortion practitioners (doctors or other) facing murder charges.
Since our “human life amendment” is so difficult to achieve, some of us will settle for a constitutional amendment overturning Roe v. Wade and allowing individual states to pass anti-abortion laws. Constitutional rights are for all Americans, not just those in states where legislators refuse to allow abortion. A “states’ rights” amendment would return women to the days when medically safe abortions were reserved for those who lived in pro-choice states or who could pay for travel or high-priced illegal practitioners.
Most Americas believe that abortion should be illegal. Polls show overwhelming — and growing — support for legal abortion. Typically, a 1982 Associated Press-NBC poll showed that 77% agreed that abortion “should be left to the woman and her doctor,” and that support for abortion rights cuts across political, age, religious, income, education, race and sex differences. Only 19% favored a constitutional amendment outlawing abortion.
There should be a national referendum on abortion so the people can decide if they want it. The majority rules in a democracy. We don’t have national referenda in this country. Constitutional rights are guaranteed for everyone and are not subject to the whim of the electorate. Even if only a minority believed in freedom of choice, that right should be protected from the tyranny of the majority.
Abortion should not be permitted for rape because it is wrong to punish a child for the sin of the father. Besides, pregnancy rarely happens from rape. Women can get immediate medical treatment to prevent pregnancy. Forcing a woman to bear a rapist’s child is further torture of the victim of a heinous crime. Some 5.4% of rape victims become pregnant. The “medical treatment” RTL refers to is a post-coital birth control such as DES that does not always work — and is actually an early abortion if conception has taken place. Many rapes are not reported immediately, or at all. Women should not have to undergo unnecessary medication.
Right to Life takes no position on contraception. The same people who oppose legal abortion are attempting to cripple federal and state family planning programs both by defunding and by administrative regulations. The “human life amendment” would outlaw birth control methods, such as the IUD and mini-pills, which act after fertilization. The charter of Birthright, the anti-abortion “problem pregnancy” counseling organization, prohibits referral for contraception.
She had her fun, now let her pay for it. If you have sex, you should expect to get pregnant and pay the consequences. This vindictive, self-righteous attitude stems from a belief that sex is bad and must be punished. Motherhood should never be punishment for having sex. Forcing a child to be born to punish its mother is the ultimate in child abuse.
In a society where contraceptives are so readily available, there should be no unwanted pregnancies and therefore no need for abortion. Women don’t bother with contraception because abortion is available. Americans have a high level of contraceptive use. But no birth control method is perfectly reliable, and for medical or religious reasons many women can’t use the most effective methods. Contraceptive information and services are still not available to all women, especially teens and the poor. That some women (and men) are careless about birth control is irrelevant to the legality of abortion.
Teenagers have forgotten how to say “no.” Making contraceptives and abortion available only encourages them to have sex. The increase in teen sex has complex society causes, including sexually-oriented TV, movies and ads. Birth control and abortion don’t cause sex, but reality dictates that they be available to help prevent teens from becoming parents.
Parents have the right to know if their child is having an abortion. They should be able to guide the child in moral decisions. A law requiring parental notification would strengthen the family unit. Mandatory parental involvement laws are simply anti-abortion laws targeted at teens, obstructing exercise of the abortion right. Such laws are bad for several reasons; they cause girls to delay seeking medical care; and they do not exempt girls wit h abusive, ill, absent or anti-abortion parents. It is not possible to legislate good family relations.
Minors should have their parents’ consent before having abortions, and wives should have their husbands’ consent. The Supreme Court, in 1976, reaffirmed that the right of privacy allows women to be free of governmental interference in decisions about childbearing. The Court struck down parental and spousal consent laws that would allow a parent of husband to veto the abortion decision. The Court said that when a husband and wife disagree, only one view can prevail, and that it should be hers because she “physically bears the child and is more directly affected by the pregnancy.”
Adoption, not abortion. There are alternatives to abortion. Abortion is never the best solution. A woman should be able to decide for herself. Some single women do choose childbirth followed by adoption; many more choose single parenthood. For a married woman, especially one with other children, giving a baby up for adoption is virtually impossible.
There is a lack of adoptable babies because of abortion being legal. Willing parents are waiting for babies. Sad as the plight of infertile couples may be, women should never be forced to bear children for them. Adoptable babies are also scarce today because 94% of unwed mothers keep their babies. The baby shortage has some positive benefits: older, non- white and handicapped children are now being adopted rather than having to live in institutions.
Most unwanted pregnancies become wanted children. Women make big mistakes having abortions, and they regret it later. . Many unwanted babies are abused, neglected and/or battered or even killed by unloving or immature parents. Many women make mistakes in having babies they don’t want and can’t love or care for. Some may regret an abortion, but this should not be a reason to deny choice to all women.
Abortion causes psychological damage to women. They suffer guilt feelings all their lives. The Institute of Medicine of the National Academy of Sciences has concluded that abortion is not associated with a detectable increase in the incidence of mental illness. Some women experience depression and guilt feelings, but a higher percentage of new mothers suffer post-partum depression. That some women experience guild is no reason to make abortion illegal for all.
More women die from legal abortion that ever did from illegal abortion. Abortion is not as safe as natural pregnancy. And abortion greatly increased the incidence of miscarriage in future pregnancies. Right to Lifers only show concern for women’s health when they can use it in their propaganda; they invent or exaggerate risks and document them with old figures from other countries. The Centers for Disease Control said the risk of dying from childbirth is 13 times that for abortion. CDC researchers have also concluded that today’s abortion procedures will not adversely affect a woman’s future reproduction, and have said, “the reality is that legalized abortion has had a definite impact on the health of American women (by providing them with a safer way to terminate their pregnancies than by either illegal abortion or childbirth).”
There are too many late (after 12 weeks) abortions. Women shouldn’t wait so long. 91% of abortions are done in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy, and only 4% after 16 weeks. Tests showing birth defects are not done until the 16th week; and some women do not discover they’re pregnant until this time. Most late abortions are done for health reasons. Ironically, restrictive laws pushed by Right to Lifers, such as mandatory parental involvement and cutoff of Medicaid for poor women’s abortions, cause delay and lead to increased numbers of late abortions.
The Supreme Court ruled that abortion on demand is legal for the entire nine months of pregnancy. The Supreme Court rules that states may prohibit abortion in the their trimester, unless a woman’s life or health is endangered. Only .9% of abortions are performed after 20 weeks, and none after 24 weeks. After 24 weeks, an emergency condition, e.g. toxemia, of the woman could end in an induced premature birth, with survival of both mother and infant as its goal.
With the central nervous system already developed, the baby is capable to feeling intense pain when it is killed in abortion. The brain structures and nerve-cell connections that characterize the thinking and feeling parts of the brain are not completed until between the 7th and 8th months of gestation. Only after 30 weeks to the brain waves show patterns of waking consciousness when pain can be perceived. The reflex actions that are present before this stage do not indicate ability to feel pain. Abortions virtually never occur after 24 weeks.
Fetuses aborted later in pregnancy and born alive are left to die or are killed by doctors. Abortions near the point of viability are performed only in extreme medical emergencies when the woman’s life is threatened. A tiny fraction of these cases result in live-born infants, who are given all care necessary to sustain their lives.
We oppose amniocentesis and other medical techniques which are used to diagnose birth defects. These are “search and destroy” missions that can lead to abortion. Even imperfect human being have the right to live. Less than 3% of such tests result in abortion. The tests permit parents who know they are at risk of bearing a defective baby to conceive, assured that if the test results are positive, they can abort and try again for a healthy baby. Before this technique was available, at-risk parents often aborted all pregnancies. It is heartless to deny parents access to medical technology that permits them to avoid giving birth to an incurable ill or severely retarded infant.
Doctors make large profits from legal abortion. abortion has become a multimillion dollar industry. No wonder the medical profession opposes the “human life amendment.” Illegal abortions were big business, as back-alley practitioners were able to extract huge fees from desperate women. Organized crime syndicates ran the notorious “abortion mills.” Doctors earn less for abortion than for prenatal care and childbirth, yet RTL used the word “industry” for abortion providers in order to make this aspect of medical practice seem dirty. Only a small percentage of physicians perform abortions, yet most support legal abortion in the interest of good medical care.
Dr. Bernard Nathanson, formerly a leading abortionist, now believes in the humanity of the fetus from conception and is an active pro-life advocate. Nathanson is one individual who switched, then wrote an inflammatory book about it. He does not represent American medical opinion. When faced with the reality of an unwanted pregnancy for themselves or their daughters, many Right to Lifers change their views and choose abortion. Some become pro-choice activists, and some remain hypocritically anti-choice.
Medicaid should not pay for abortion. It is wrong to try to eliminate poverty by killed the unborn children of the poor. Congress set up the Medicaid program to equalize medical services between the rich and poor. To deny poor women abortion services while paying for childbirth is unfair. It removes reproductive freedom and defies both common sense and humane public policy. Cutting off Medicaid abortion actually increased poverty by trapping mothers of young children in the poverty/welfare cycle.
The Supreme Court gave the government the right to “encourage” childbirth over abortion by funding only childbirth and not abortion under the Medicaid program. States should use funding to implement pro-life values. If the government has the right to control people’s childbearing that way, then it might, under some other set of pressures (such as reducing the welfare load) choose to fund abortion for the poor but not prenatal care and childbirth. Both kinds of coercion are unacceptable. The choice must remain with the individual, not the government. Both childbirth and abortion should be funded.
Our government can’t afford to give poor women free abortion on demand. The poor aren’t entitled to everything the rich have. If they get abortions, then next they’ll be asking for Cadillacs. Abortion is not a luxury item; it is a necessary component of women’s health care. The government has decided to provide health care for the needy, and should not eliminate any medically necessary care. Since it is less expensive to subsidize an abortion than childbirth and subsequent welfare, the anti-abortion financial argument is invalid as well as inhumane. Another irony is that most anti-abortion legislators vote against funding the health and social welfare programs that make it possible for women to take care of their babies rather than abort for financial reasons.
I don’t want my tax money used for abortion, as in Medicaid. Taxpayers shouldn’t have to pay for what they believe is immoral. We all must support some government spending we don’t like. Pacifists’ dollars support the military; Christian Scientists pay their share of medical programs. The government would be in chaos if each of us could allocate how our tax dollars are us ed. In our representative form of government, our statements are made on election day, when we choose those who decide how tax dollars are spent.
Abortion is mass murder — genocide — another Nazi Holocaust. Six million abortions are the same as six million Jews; a life is a life. Hitler used racial grounds to exterminate Jews and other “undesirables.” The reproductive rights movement has no genocide component — no one is out to kill all embryos. It is an insult to the memory of the alive and conscious human beings murdered by the Nazis to equate them with embryos for anti-abortion propaganda.
In Nazi Germany, it all started with abortion. Sexual freedom was the problem, and look where it led. The opposite is true. Totalitarian leaders Hitler and Stalin believed that the individual should be sacrificed to the state. Both instituted harsh abortion laws, outlawed other women’s rights, and forced women to stay home, bear children, and be subservient to their husbands. Russian women were criticized for treating childbearing “as if it were a personal matter.” Hitler said, “Use of contraceptives means a violation of nature and a degradation of womanhood, motherhood and love….”
Beethoven’s mother was in ill health and the family was poor. Beethoven might never have been born if his mother had been able to have an abortion. If you follow that line of reasoning, then perhaps Hitler’s mother might have had an abortion, too.
Blacks are against abortion because they believe abortion is an instrument of genocide. According to 1982 polls, there is no difference in the attitudes of blacks and whites toward legal abortion. Non-white women, however, have an abortion rate (56.8 per 1000) that is twice that of white women (24.3 per 1000). To quote two black men: Dr. Kenneth Edelin: “I know what genocide is — and it isn’t doing legal abortions. Black women have suffered and died from botched, illegal abortion. That is genocide.” Carl T. Rowan: “(Black) women know that, as long as someone else does not force an abortion on them, it is not genocide.”
In the Dred Scott case, the Supreme Court said that blacks were not persons. In Roe v. Wade, the Court decided that unborn babies were not legal persons. Both decisions were wrong. In the Dred Scott case, the issue was not the personhood of blacks, but whether they were citizens with constitutional rights. The Court consistently referred to blacks as persons. The Dred Scott case is not analogous to Roe v. Wade.
The “abortion mentality” leads to infanticide, euthanasia, and killing of retarded and elderly persons. In countries where abortion has been legal for years, there is no evidence that respect for life has diminished or that legal abortion leads to killing of any persons. Infanticide, however, is prevalent in countries where the overburdened poor cannot control their childbearing and abortion is illegal.
Abortion is being used as a method of population control in underdeveloped nations. Abortion is one way to allow individuals to limit their childbearing voluntarily when a country’s resources cannot support its population. Pro-choice people oppose forced abortion and support freedom of choice for all women in all countries.
The Equal Rights Amendment (ERA) will be used as a legal basis for abortion and government funding of abortion under the “equal protection of the law” concept. A Massachusetts court refused to use the state ERA as a legal basis for reinstating Medicaid funding of abortions in that state. The right to abortion is based on the right of privacy, not equal rights. None of the 14 state ERAs has caused any change in abortion law. ERA and abortion funding are entirely separate issues.
“If abortion were made illegal again, women would not return to self-induced, coat-hanger abortions or back-alley butchers. Modern suction machines, or even a catheter and bulb syringe, will be available to non-physicians. Prostaglandin suppositories would ‘start’ an abortion that would appear to be a miscarriage.” Bernard Nathananson, M.D. in Aborting America This argument is specious and hypocritical. If abortion were illegal, well-intentioned but unskilled practitioners would perforate uteruses, misjudge the length of gestation, do incomplete abortions, and otherwise botch the procedure. Women’s health would suffer and the death rate soar. Further, women would once more be forced to break the law to receive medical care, and once more their dignity would be lost in the process.
Pro-life is pro-family. Pro-abortionists are anti-family. Abortion destroys the American family. Legal abortion helps parents limit their families to the number of children they want and can afford, both financially and emotionally. Anti-abortion laws create new families consisting of a child and her child, living at the lowest levels of society. Pro-choice is definitely pro-family.

The Conservative Case for Abortion

Edited by Estella Johnson

In “The Conservative Case for Abortion” (The New Republic, August 21/28), Jerry Z. Muller discusses a third view of abortion that is neither “right to choose” nor “right-to-life” [sic]. Muller’s third position is “essentially conservative and pro-family,” yet favors abortion as “the right choice to promote healthy family life under certain circumstances.”

Muller leans heavily on the “middle class family values” of stability and responsibility-values that conservatives cherish. He says these values include the belief that bearing and rearing children is a “voluntary vocation.” This includes deciding when and how many children (usually a low number) are to be born. It seeks to “increase the chances of successfully socializing and educating children in order to help them find fulfilling work and spiritual lives.”

Given these bedrock conservative values, Muller has harsh criticisms of the right-to-life movement, which he says undermines efforts to strengthen purposeful families by requiring “massive government intrusion into the most intimate of realms” and removes childbearing decisions from those who are to raise them.

He says the right-to-lifers’ “strategic aim is to extend state power to preserve and protect every fetus,” regardless of its condition and the will of its parents, and that the success of the right-to-life position would lead to more children born into socially dysfunctional settings. Muller argues that giving birth isn’t always the right choice, and “under some conditions, choosing to give birth may be socially dysfunctional, morally irresponsible, or even cruel.”

The conservative view of the family is threatened by the right-to-life movement, according to Muller. And the prime obstacle to the right-to-life position, Muller says, is not feminism, but conservative middle-class parents who would advise their teenage daughter to have an abortion rather than force a marriage or give a child up for adoption.

Anti-abortion movement caused rise in out-of-wedlock births

Muller holds the anti-abortion movement responsible for the rise in out-of-wedlock births over the past 15 years, from 18.4 percent to 30.1 percent. He points to the disturbing results of the strategy of “chipping away” at abortion rights to “save as many babies as possible.” The major impact has been in passing legislation affecting the poor, such as Medicaid recipients seeking abortions. Muller says, “The success of the [anti-abortion] movement is now measured in the lives of poor children born out-of-wedlock.”

He explains that most abortions occur to prevent out-of wedlock births: only 271,000 of 1.5 million abortions in 1991 were performed on married women. He cites statistics showing that among married women, there were eight abortions for every 90 births; among unmarried women, there were 48 abortions for every 45 births. “All else being equal, then, eliminating the possibility of abortion would hike the number of out-of-wedlock births from its already disastrous level of 30 percent to 49 percent.” He says the trend to out-of-wedlock births rather than abortion “marks a partial victory for the [anti-abortion] movement” (but a loss for the kind of society conservatives want.)

Attacking the right-to-life effort to ban late-term abortions, Muller again calls the effect “tragic.” He says that late-term abortions are rare, and frequently occur after the parents have learned of a serious birth defect. Yet the anti-abortion movement seeks to “save” these fetuses. He says a bill before Congress that tries to force women to give birth to these “babies”, should be dubbed “The Cruelty to Families Act.”

Muller gives voice to the views of Americans who are ambivalent about abortion but opposed to government control of their families. They validate the slogan, “Pro-choice is pro-family.”