Here we go again.
In the late 1990’s, when the Congress was considering banning what pro-lifers dubbed the “partial birth abortion,” there was a great debate over how often the procedure was used and in what circumstances. Pro-choice groups defended the procedure by arguing that it was used only a few hundred times a year in extreme situations, such as when the mother’s life was endangered or there was a severe fetal abnormality. Pro-lifers countered that it was used in many more cases and not necessarily in those “extreme” situations. At one point, even the relatively pro-choice media started questioning the abortion rights group’s arguments and they ultimately noted that the pro-lifers were correct. In February, 1997, in my capacity as the Director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers I went public and confirmed that the procedure was more widely used than pro-choicers had admitted. I took this terrifying step because I had grown tired of our movement being afraid to talk about the actual abortion procedure and for constantly “apologizing” for abortion by emphasizing the tougher cases. My remarks created national headlines and great consternation for my movement but I – and the providers I represented – felt better that the air had been cleared.
And now, pro-choice columnist Dana Milbank wrote a piece this weekend that relives – and ignores – history.
He notes that a short while ago, South Carolina Senator Lindsay Graham (running for President) introduced legislation that would ban abortions after 20 weeks. This is not a new concept. Bills like this one have been introduced in many states and the U.S. House of Representatives recently passed a similar bill. To his credit, Milbank castigates Graham and his proposal and he points out that banning abortions after 20 weeks will only affect a small percentage of abortions. Fair enough. But, in a case of déjà vu all over again, he felt compelled to add that “those are often the most difficult cases, such as the woman who discovers late in pregnancy that she has cancer.”
If he was just talking about abortions after 24 weeks, then his statement would be true because those abortions can only be performed if there are exigent circumstances, i.e., serious health implications, life endangerment and, in some states, fetal abnormalities. And yes, post viability abortions constitute an extremely small percentage of the abortions in this country. But, repeating the mistakes of the past, Mr. Milbank totally ignores those abortions performed between 20 and 24 weeks where there are basically no restrictions and women need not offer any reason for their having their abortions.
Between 20 and 24 weeks, a woman can walk into a clinic (assuming she can find one that performs those later abortions) and have an abortion, no questions asked. Now, the reality is that in most situations a women will voluntarily talk about why she is having the abortion but that’s as far as it goes. She could walk into a clinic at 21 weeks, go through counseling, get her medical check-up, not say another word and have the abortion.
And, as far as I’m concerned, that’s okay. There is no need to apologize. The Supreme Court in 1973 said those were the rules, end of story.
But, no, as always many in the pro-choice movement do not want to fess up that there are woman out there who just want an abortion dammit – and instead they keep focusing on the hard cases which make for good media sound bites but do not necessarily reflect the real world experience of thousands and thousands of women.