Chicago Sun-Times Editorial - Unsettling decision on abortion procedure
Copyright by The Chicago Sun-Times
April 19, 2007
The Supreme Court's regrettable decision to uphold the constitutionality of the so-called partial birth abortion ban, which President Bush signed into law four years ago, won't affect a large majority of women seeking an abortion. The second-trimester procedure, which doctors prefer to call an ''intact dilation and evacuation," is rarely performed. Nearly 90 percent of abortions are performed during the first 12 weeks of pregnancy.
But in overturning several federal courts, the high court's majority not only endorsed a wrongheaded law, it lent credence to the unsettling notion that Congress should have a say in the most private and personal decisions of citizens and has the right to dictate which medical procedures are acceptable. "This ruling tells women that politicians, not doctors, will make their health care decisions for them," said Eve Gartner of Planned Parenthood. Even politicians who are doctors aren't always the most reliable judges of medical needs, as Bill Frist demonstrated with his long-distance, video-screen assessment of Terri Schiavo.
In pushing the act through Congress, conservative lawmakers played up the admittedly unsettling aspect of partial-birth abortions, which involves crushing or cutting the skull of the fetus. But the alternative methods the court pointed to in saying the ban doesn't compromise a woman's constitutional right to an abortion -- and it is method the court is concerned with here, not morality -- are no less "gruesome." Any kind of abortion procedure can be grim. The most important factor to be considered is the health of the woman. Doctors say the "D&E" procedure, which will continue to be allowed in cases where the woman's life is endangered, is, in fact, safer than alternative methods. No woman should be denied the right to make the best choice for her health, whether or not her life is at risk.
Where the Supreme Court's decision will lead is difficult to predict. Dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the only woman on the bench, said the ruling was an effort to "chip away a right declared again and again by this court . . . with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives." But we think a court decision reversing Roe vs. Wade is highly unlikely considering the political backlash it would generate. Still, Wednesday's decision certainly gives abortion opponents a major boost, encouraging their efforts to push for more restrictions on abortion. At the very least, with the Democratic majorities in the House and Senate unlikely to go back and rewrite the partial-birth law, it appears women will have to live with it -- and do all they can to make sure it is applied as narrowly as the government has said.