Editorials

In red and blue states, abortion extremists and powerful lobbies extend a war without end

How abortion access would vary without Roe v. Wade

Different states have different laws in place that will take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.
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Different states have different laws in place that will take effect if Roe v. Wade is overturned.

When you hear the phrase “abortion extremists” do you think of Kansas physician George Tiller’s attackers or of Virginia’s governor-for-now, Ralph Northam?

However you answer that question, don’t forget that there are extreme views on both ends of the political spectrum. And little if any desire to forge the kind of middle-ground compromise that the majority of Americans consistently tell pollsters they favor, and that virtually every other country in the world has settled on.

According to Gallup, “six in 10 Americans think abortion should be legal in the first three months of pregnancy. However, support drops by about half, to 28 percent, for abortions conducted in the second three months, and by half again, to 13 percent, in the final three months.”

Yet we’ve spent more than 40 years spending enormous sums of money and energy fighting over whether to make abortions available almost never or in almost all cases. And there are powerful lobbies and religious fervor on both sides.

Closest to home, Kansas lawmakers are again proposing a “personhood amendment” that would effectively ban abortion under state law by granting “inalienable rights, equal protection and due process of law of every human being from the beginning of the biological development of that human being, including fertilization.”

This is the sort of unintentionally harsh law that though put forward in good faith, would almost inevitably lead to the criminalization of miscarriage. In El Salvador, some poor women who couldn’t prove they didn’t provoke the stillbirths they suffered have served time in prison.

In Missouri, “fetal heartbeat” bills in the House and Senate would have almost the identical effect, banning doctors except in an emergency from performing an abortion if a heartbeat has been detected. And a heartbeat can sometimes be picked up as early as five weeks — before many women even know they’re pregnant.

Senate sponsor Andrew Koenig, who is proposing this bill for a third time, has said, “There’s more movement this year, especially with what New York has done and the governor of Virginia said.”

Which of course brings us to extremism on the other end of the spectrum.

With the possibility of the U.S. Supreme Court weakening or even reversing the Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion in 1973 looming, lawmakers in blue states are trying just as hard to do away with limits as those in red states are trying to buttress them.

New York recently legalized abortion after 24 weeks if a doctor determines that a mother’s health is at risk. “Health” is not defined in the law, but the Doe Supreme Court opinion that was decided at the same time as Roe defines it quite broadly, “in the light of all factors — physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman’s age — relevant to the well-being of the patient. All these factors may relate to health. This allows the attending physician the room he needs to make his best medical judgment.”

This and a proposed Virginia law are the sort of unintentionally harsh measures, also put forward in good faith, that lead Northam and others to speak in a way that strikes some of us as morally numb. The Virginia governor described babies with physical deformities who survive third-trimester abortions being “kept comfortable” and “resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family wanted.” Kathy Tran, the sponsor of the Virginia bill, said yes, the legislation would allow a woman to get an abortion right up to the moment of birth if a doctor found that giving birth instead would hurt her mentally or physically.

Only, some of the late-term abortion stories shared by a pro-choice advocacy organizational called National Network of Abortion Funds aren’t what we usually think of as emergency situations. Mostly, when you look up later abortion stories,” said a woman who described aborting at 28 weeks, “they are anti-choice propaganda or stories about fetal anomalies, and that’s not my experience. A lot of people ask me, ‘You were pregnant for so long, how did you not know?’ And the reality is that chronic illnesses can mask symptoms. I want to share my story because I want people to know that getting an abortion at six weeks and getting an abortion at 28 weeks are equally valid.” Many late-term abortions happen because of a lack of access in some areas.

The Democratic Party’s “cede no grain of sand” attempts to resist any limits on abortion rights do raise campaign funds but may also boost President Donald Trump’s chances in 2020, just as they did in 2016. At Thursday’s National Prayer Breakfast, Trump told believers, “We must build a culture that cherishes the dignity and sanctity of innocent human life. All children, born and unborn, are made in the holy image of God.”

This would be easier to take seriously if his administration didn’t cage the already born, ripping thousands of children out of the arms of their parents at the border and failing to reunite some of them even when ordered by the courts to do so.

For some on both sides, the issue is so deeply held that it can’t be negotiated. The majority in the middle remain hostage to them, and to those who’d simply miss fundraising on the issue, and all the political power that goes with that.

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