On April 25, the Supreme Court ruled in Gonzalez v. Carhart, in which it upheld the Partial Birth Abortion Act of 2003, which made it illegal to perform abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. By doing so, the Supreme Court handed a crucial victory to the Bush administration and all those working to curb a woman’s reproductive rights in this country. It also set a new low for judicial discourse in this country, with Justice Anthony Kennedy using some of the worst language coined by anti-abortion activists in a staggeringly asinine and paternalistic decision.
The Partial Birth Abortion Act specifically banned a medical procedure known as Intact Dilation and Extraction, or IDE, in which the mother’s cervix is dilated and the fetus is extracted. This procedure is used for late term abortions, or abortions after the 12th week of pregnancy. It is endorsed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which has called it “the best or most appropriate procedure in a particular circumstance to save the life or preserve the health of a woman.”
You won’t find the term “partial birth abortion” in any medical textbook or doctor’s manual. It is a misleading term designed to obscure the debate regarding female reproductive rights. In fact, the term was coined by Randall Terry, co-founder of the militant anti-reproductive rights group Operation Rescue. “(The) partial birth abortion ban is a political scam but (also) a public relations goldmine,” Terry said, “The major benefit is the debate that surrounds it.” Republicans in Congress have certainly exploited that debate, as the Partial Birth Abortion Act passed in a GOP-controlled Congress in 2003. The phrase “partial birth abortion” is a tragedy of language, yet another example of rhetorical obstruction by the Republican Party.
What is so disheartening about this case was the buying of this language by the Justices of the Supreme Court, who supposedly make their decisions in a vacuum free of political pressure. Not only did Kennedy repeatedly use the phrase “partial birth abortion” in his decision for the majority, but he continually described doctors who performed the IDE procedure as “abortion doctors.” Why not just call them doctors, or OB/GYNS? The decision in this case will be held up by foes of reproductive rights for decades to come as not only their first real triumph in the battle to erase Roe v. Wade, but as concrete evidence of the success of their misleading rhetorical verbal warfare.
This Supreme Court decision may have very well signed the death warrants of thousands of women in the United States. The IDE procedure is only performed on about 2,200 women every year, and is only performed when the fetus develops serious complications late in the term that could result, if the child is delivered, in stroke, paralysis, infertility, or even death for the mother. The only alternative, in which the fetus is dismembered in the uterus and then removed piece by piece, carries a much higher risk of infection or uterine damage for the mother. While the ban does have a life exemption, it would be administered by HMO bureaucrats and politicians, not by patients and their doctors. By upholding this ban, the Supreme Court has put the lives of thousands of women in jeopardy. A “culture of life” indeed.
The decision to uphold the Partial Birth Abortion Act represents the biggest federal infringement upon a woman’s reproductive rights since the landmark Roe v. Wade decision protecting those rights was issued in 1973. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg remarked in the minority opinion, the ban “cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this court – and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women’s lives.” This decision can be seen as nothing other than a message of cold, heartless political calculation from President Bush, his judicial appointees, his Republican allies in Congress, and the rest of the anti-reproductive rights movement. The reproductive rights of women are in their sights, and they will resort to anything to destroy them.
Zach Austin is a political science junior and Mustang Daily political columnist.