Fanatics For 'Choice'

Americans are beginning to recoil against the fanaticism that has helped to produce this fact: more than a quarter of all American pregnancies are ended by abortions. Abundant media attention has been given to the extremism that has tainted the fight-to-life movement. Now events are exposing the extraordinary moral evasions and callousness characteristic of fanaticism, prevalent in the abortion-rights lobby.

Begin with "partial-birth abortions." Pro-abortion extremists object to that name, preferring "intact dilation and evacuation," for the same reason the pro-abortion movement prefers to be called "pro-choice." What is "intact" is a baby. During the debate that led to House passage of a ban on partial-birth abortions, the right-to-life movement was criticized for the sensationalism of its print advertisements featuring a Dayton nurse's description of such an abortion:

"The mother was six months pregnant. The baby's heartbeat was clearly visible on the ultrasound screen. The doctor went in with forceps and grabbed the baby's legs and pulled them down into the birth canal. Then he delivered the baby's body and the arms-everything but the head. The doctor kept the baby's head just inside the uterus. The baby's little fingers were clasping and unclasping and his feet were kicking. Then the doctor stuck the scissors through the back of his head, and the baby's arms jerked out in a flinch, a startle reaction, like a baby does when he thinks that he might fall. The doctor opened up the scissors, stuck a high-powered suction tube into the opening and sucked the baby's brains out."

To object to this as sensationalism is to say that discomforting truths should be suppressed. But increasingly the language of pro-abortion people betrays a flinching from facts. In a woman's story about her chemical abortion, published last year in Mother Jones magazine, she quotes her doctor as saying, "By Sunday you won't see on the monitor what we call the heartbeat." "What we call"? In partial-birth abortions the birth is kept (just barely) partial to preserve the legal fiction that a baby (what some pro-abortion people call "fetal material") is not being killed. An abortionist has told The New York Times that some mothers find such abortions comforting because after the killing, the small body can be "dressed . and held" so the (if pro-abortionists will pardon the expression) mother can "say goodbye." The New York Times reports, "Most of the doctors interviewed said they saw no moral difference between dismembering the fetus within the uterus and partially delivering it, intact, before killing it." Yes.

Opponents of a ban on partial-birth abortions say almost all such abortions are medically necessary. However, an abortionist at the Dayton clinic is quoted as saying 80 percent are elective. Opponents of a ban on such abortions assert that the baby is killed before the procedure, by the anesthesia given to the mother. (The baby "undergoes demise," in the mincing words of Kate Michelman of the National Abortion and Reproductive Rights Action League. Does Michelman say herbicides cause the crab grass in her lawn to "undergo demise".'? Such Orwellian language is a sure sign of squeamishness.) However, the president of the American Society of Anesthesiologists says this "misinformation" has "absolutely no basis in scientific fact" and might endanger pregnant women's health by deterring them from receiving treatment that is safe.

Opponents of a ban say there are only about 600 such procedures a year. Let us suppose, as not everyone does, the number 600 is accurate concerning the more than 15,000 abortions performed after 21 weeks of gestation. Still, 600 is a lot. Think of two crashes of jumbo airliners. Opponents of the ban darkly warn that it would be the first step toward repeal of all abortion rights. Columnist John Leo of U.S. News & World Report says that is akin to the gun lobby's argument that a ban on assault weapons must lead to repeal of the Second Amendment.

In a prophecy born of hope, many pundits have been predicting that the right-to-life "extremists" would drastically divide the Republican Party. But 78 House Democrats voted to ban partial-birth abortions; only 15 Republicans opposed the ban. If the ban survives the Senate, President Clinton will probably veto it. The convention that nominated him refused to allow the Democratic governor of Pennsylvania, Bob Casey, who is pro-life, to speak. Pro-choice speakers addressed the 1992 Republican Convention. The two presidential candidates who hoped that a pro-choice stance would resonate among Republicans-Gov. Pete Wilson, Sen. Arlen Specter--have become the first two candidates to fold their tents.

In October in The New Republic, Naomi Wolf, a feminist and pro-choice writer, argued that by resorting to abortion rhetoric that recognizes neither life nor death, pro-choice people "risk becoming precisely what our critics charge us with being: callous, selfish and casually destructive men and women who share a cheapened view of human life." Other consequences of a "lexicon of dehumanization" about the unborn are "hardness of heart, lying and political failure." Wolf said that the "fetus means nothing" stance of the pro-choice movement is refuted by common current practices of parents-to-be who have framed sonogram photos and fetal heartbeat stethoscopes in their homes. Young upscale adults of child-bearing age are a solidly pro-choice demographic group. But they enjoy watching their unborn babies on Sonograms, responding to outside stimuli, and they read "The Well Baby Book," which says: "Increasing knowledge is increasing the awe and respect we have for the unborn baby and is causing us to regard the unborn baby as a real person long before birth. . . "

Wolf argued for keeping abortion legal but treating it as a matter of moral gravity because "grief and respect are the proper tones for all discussions about choosing to endanger or destroy a manifestation of life." This temperate judgment drew from Jane Johnson, interim president of Planned Parenthood, a denunciation of the "view that there are good and bad reasons for abortion." So, who now are the fanatics?