Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Life is stronger than death

Apropos of Easter, in the wake of the horrifying events in Virginia, I am happy to write about the U.S. Supreme Court's decision yesterday to uphold the 2003 law banning partial birth abortions.

I love the euphemism used by USA Today reporter Joan Biskupic in her report on the Supreme Court's 5-4 decision Wednesday to uphold the Congressional ban on partial birth abortions. She calls it "a particular abortion procedure." Further, she uses scare quotes when writing about "a method critics call 'partial birth' abortion." She is correct, however, that this decision makes "plain how a single change in a justice can change the law of the land." The unnamed justice, of course, is Samuel Alito, who replaced Justice Sandra Day O'Connor on the high court. Wednesday's decision marks the first time since Roe v. Wade that the Supreme Court, to use Ms. Biskupic's words, "emphasized the value of fetal life over a woman's right to end a pregnancy." In far too many people's estimation fetal life is not yet human life.

I know this is an emotional issue for people on both sides and I apologize up front for what may be perceived as sarcasm, but it is a sad day when a clear triumph for human life, the banning of a "procedure" that amounts to infanticide, is viewed as somehow diminishing human rights. This ban, which contains no provision for a woman's health, largely due to the American Medical Association disavowing the medical necessity of partial birth abortions, is a great day and a step in reversing the "culture of death", which we are to replace, not with a culture of life, but with a culture of love, one component of which is recognizing the sacredness of human life and valuing life.

The medical necessity of partial birth abortions has an interesting history in this debate, going back to 1996, when the ban was first put before Congress. During committee hearings on the bill before it was put to a vote in Congress in 1996, as well as in an appearance on ABC's Nightline, Ron Fitzsimmons, then executive director of the National Coalition of Abortion Providers, dishonestly testified about the medical necessity and frequency of "the procedure." He later admitted to the New York Times in 1997 that he "lied through [his] teeth" when he testified that partial-birth abortions were performed rarely and only to save the life of the mother. In an article that was published in the 3 March 1997 edition of Medical News, an American Medical Association publication, Fitzsimmons admitted that pro-life advocates were correct in asserting that in the overwhelming majority of cases, the procedure is performed on a healthy mother who is five months pregnant with a healthy, unborn child. "The abortion rights folks know it, the anti-abortion folks know it, and so, probably, does everyone else," he wrote. By his own admission, the reason Fitzsimmons lied was because he was worried that the truth would lead to curbs on abortions.

So, rather than lamenting the loss of a person's "right" to "terminate a pregnancy," let's celebrate that our society has become a more civil, more hospitable, and more just society. We must not be smug about this positive development, however. As Christians we must retain our commitment to reach out to women in crisis pregnancies in order to give them both spiritual and material support and assistance in bringing their children to birth. We must also commit to ourselves to assisting mothers and children after birth. Single parent households headed by women are one of the most impoverished segments of our society, a leading contributor to the rising number of children growing up in poverty. We must also remain committed agents of God's love, mercy, and healing for women who have made the tragic choice to have an abortion, often aided and abetted, if not forced, by others into carrying out such a sad decision. We must positively practice and teach the virtue of chastity.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, writing for the five justice majority, wrote that the government may use "its regulatory authority to show its profound respect for the life within the woman," thus demonstrating that yesterday's decision is not only a triumph of faith, it is also a triumph of reason, without which there is no justice.

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