Should Women Have Greater Access to Abortion?
Chapter 3 Preface
Ever since abortion was legalized by the Supreme Court in 1973 in its landmark decision Roe v. Wade, abortion opponents have tried to restrict the procedure or overturn the ruling. In the late 1990s, abortion opponents focused on the medical procedure known as intact dilation and extraction, more commonly called late-term or partial-birth abortion. The controversial procedure is used during the second or third trimester of a pregnancy and involves partially delivering the fetus in order to perform the abortion. Since 1995 opponents of lateterm abortions have introduced bills in Congress to ban the procedure, but none has yet been passed into law.
Planned Parenthood and other pro-choice supporters contend that efforts to ban late-term abortions are thinly disguised attempts to ban abortion altogether. The legislation is so broad, its critics assert, that it could apply to abortion at any stage of pregnancy, not just the second or third trimester. According to Linda Gordon, a historian of gender and social policy at the University of Wisconsin, “Legislating at the state and federal level against ‘partial-birth’ abortion is the cutting-edge strategy in the drive to criminalize all abortion.” Moreover, pro-choice sympathizers argue that late-term abortion is an extremely rare procedure; 99 percent of all abortions are performed in the first half of pregnancy, they assert, and less than 1 percent are performed after twenty-one weeks. In...
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Women Need Greater Access to Abortion
“Mary” calls me from South Dakota, asking if we can help. “Susan,” her seventeen- year-old daughter, is pregnant. The man involved is the father of Susan’s two-year-old child, but Susan has a restraining order against him. She is in her second trimester, and the only clinic in their state doesn’t do abortions past fourteen weeks, so she will have to go to Kansas to have the abortion. Susan and her mother have tried, but they can’t raise all the money needed for the trip and the procedure. The man’s mother could contribute, but she is pressuring Susan to have the baby and give it to her to raise. Mary is worried and scared. She is also angry, after calling all the pro-choice groups she knows and finding no resources for women in her daughter’s situation.
As the contact person for the National Network of Abortion Funds, I get many calls like this from women all over the country—women in prison, young women, women who have been raped, “undocumented” women, women without resources, desperate women. We repeatedly hear desperate stories from girls and women. A seventeen-year-old with one child, for example, drank a bottle of rubbing alcohol to cause a miscarriage; a fourteen-year-old asked her boyfriend to kick her in the stomach and push her down the stairs.
Although legal abortion is one of the safest surgical procedures in the United States—comparable to a tonsillectomy—these calls from low-income women are a constant...
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The RU-486 Abortion Pill Should Be Available to Women
Anti-abortion protesters, gun-shy drug companies, and timid politicians have stymied RU 486 for a decade. . . .
In 1988, Mother Jones announced a “birth control breakthrough” on its cover, describing the development of a promising new “abortion pill”—RU 486—and asking why, if it worked so well for French, Chinese, Swedish, and Dutch women, it wasn’t available in the United States. The physicians, feminists, and family-planning experts I interviewed then predicted that, given the political climate surrounding abortion, it could be 10 years before RU 486, or mifepristone, would be approved for use by American women.
Eleven years later, U.S. doctors still can’t prescribe the drug. But if all goes smoothly, they may get to sometime in [the future]. The FDA has given mifepristone preliminary approval, and, equally significant, manufacturers have been identified. Don’t hold your breath, though: Formidable political obstacles have long kept mifepristone from pharmacy shelves, and plenty more could arise.
Improving Access to Abortion
If and when mifepristone does become available, it will remove many of the political and practical barriers that have made it difficult for U.S. women to get abortions—and for many physicians to perform them. A survey of physicians conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation and published in September 1998 found that 54 percent of all obstetricians and gynecologists,...
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Late-Term Abortions Should Not Be Banned
Claudia Crown Ades discovered in her 26th week of pregnancy that the baby she desperately wanted was doomed by extensive damage to the brain, heart, and internal organs.
Mary-Dorothy Line learned at 19 weeks that there was no hope for her pregnancy. The skull of her fetus had filled with fluid in place of a developed brain.
And then there’s Vikki Stella. In her 32nd week of pregnancy, an ultrasound determined that something was terribly wrong. Testing ultimately confirmed nine major anomalies, including a fluid-filled cranium with no brain tissue at all. A diabetic, Vikki could not have continued the pregnancy without endangering her health, due to increased risk of blood loss during delivery.
These women—all in their 20s and 30s—were advised by their physicians that the abortion procedure called intact D&E [dilation and extraction] was the best option to terminate their pregnancies safely, without endangering their future fertility.
Today, these women are healthy, and Mary-Dorothy and Vikki have since given birth to healthy babies. Why? They were able to make a choice. In a similar situation, it’s a choice you won’t have if some members of Congress have their way. . . .
Congress [continues to consider] legislation that would ban so-called partialbirth abortions—a vague and medically inaccurate term. The bill’s language is so broad that the procedure which protected the health of Vikki and...
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Women Have Sufficient Access to Abortion
For a fleeting moment in October 1998, Michelle Lee became the emblem of the abortion-rights movement. The 26-year-old divorced mother of two suffered from a life-threatening heart condition. Her heart was so fragile that Louisiana State University Medical Center in Shreveport had put her on the transplant list and her cardiologist had warned that another pregnancy could kill her. Yet when she unexpectedly became pregnant last summer, the LSU Medical Center refused to give her an abortion. The reason: A panel of the state hospital’s physicians concluded that Lee’s chances of dying from her pregnancy were less than 50 percent.
The hospital’s decision prompted [journalist] Connie Chung to pointedly ask on Good Morning America whether “the hospital [was] willing to let her die.” Within days, the National Abortion Federation (NAF) raised $7,000 to pay for Lee’s abortion, found an obstetrician and hospital in Houston to perform the procedure, and had a medic unit drive her 240 miles to the hospital. Lee later returned quietly to Bossier City—where, only weeks later, she had another heart attack.
For abortion-rights advocates, Michelle Lee is Exhibit A that the right to abortion is endangered, even in cases where a woman’s life is plainly at risk. Ironically, though, antiabortion activists also hold up Lee as proof that the right to abortion remains intact. “What did it take her—all of a week to find an abortion?” scoffs...
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The RU-486 Abortion Pill Should Not Be Available to Women
Is the emotional and political reaction to President Bill Clinton’s 1996 veto of the partial birth abortion ban a surprise to anyone? Probably not. What is surprising is the scope of the emotional opposition to partial birth abortion as seen against the flimsy backdrop of political and social apathy that has been the norm during more than 24 years of legalized abortion in the United States.
Why such a reaction from pro-life and Church leaders now? Many of the same leaders never unleashed the same kind of fury or generated the same type of media coverage during the past 24 relentless years of abortion-on-demand. It’s almost as though, in some people’s minds, the horror of abortion becomes real only at advanced gestational age or by virtue of the physical location of the tiny victim at the time it’s killed.
The availability of abortion clinics and doctors is slowly dwindling. Organized protests at clinics and doctors’ homes, and the filing of malpractice suits against abortion doctors, have contributed to the decline in available abortion facilities and physicians. How will abortion continue as a method of eugenics and population control; as an erroneously described “reproductive right”? Perhaps the answers to these questions will yield clues to the future of abortion.
As technology advances in the fields of endocrinology, biotechnology, immunology and pharmacology, the creation of...
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Rationale for Banning Abortions Late in Pregnancy
The abortion issue remains in the public eye and the media headlines largely because of a single late-term abortion procedure referred to in the medical literature as intact dilation and extraction (D&X) and in the common vernacular as partial-birth abortion. This viewpoint reviews the medical and ethical aspects of this procedure and of late-term abortions in general.
Intact D&X came to the forefront of public awareness in 1995 during a congressional debate on a bill banning the procedure. During this debate, opponents of the ban asserted that the procedure was rarely performed (approximately 450–500 per year) and only used in extreme cases when a woman’s life was at risk or the fetus had a condition incompatible with life. Following President Bill Clinton’s April 1996 veto of a congressionally approved ban, conflicting information surfaced. Ron Fitzsimmons, executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, had stated in November 1995 that “women had these abortions only in the most extreme circumstances of life endangerment or fetal anomaly.” However, he later admitted that his own contacts with many of the physicians performing intact D&X procedures found that the vast majority were done not in response to extreme medical conditions but on healthy mothers and healthy fetuses.
In newspaper interviews, physicians who use the technique acknowledged performing...
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