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FIRST-PERSON: Ending partial-birth abortion

LEESBURG, Va. (BP)–What does a just society look like? Thoughtful people will answer this question in different ways, and there should be plenty of room for friendly debate and dialogue. One practice that no reasonable person would include in their vision of a just society, however, is partial-birth abortion. Civilized people should deem this barbaric practice an outrage against humanity.

A partial-birth abortion typically is performed late in a woman’s pregnancy. A few days before the procedure, doctors induce labor. When the mother’s water breaks, the doctor uses forceps to deliver the baby, feet first, until the child’s body is entirely out of the birth canal — only the baby’s head remains inside the mother. Doctors then forcefully insert a pair of scissors into the back of the baby’s skull, opening a hole through which they suck out the child’s brain with a vacuum. After the skull has been collapsed, the “doctor” delivers a lifeless little boy or girl.

This travesty occurs in America between 2,500 and 3,000 times a year.

Americans have tried on multiple occasions to rid their country of this morally repugnant practice. Most recently, in 2003, both the Senate and the House passed a partial-birth abortion ban with large, bipartisan majorities. A few days later, President Bush signed that ban into law, finally outlawing the practice.

Even so, partial-birth abortions are still performed in America today. Shortly after Congress passed the ban, and shortly after the President signed it into law, three federal district courts (in New York, San Francisco and Nebraska) ruled that the law was unconstitutional and struck it down.

On Feb. 21 the Supreme Court announced that it would hear an appeal to determine whether the law is constitutional. This will not be the first time the Supreme Court has heard a partial-birth abortion case. In 2000 the court ruled on a law passed in Nebraska which banned partial-birth abortion. The court said the law was unconstitutional because it did not include a provision to protect the health of the mother (even though doctors have testified that this procedure would never be used for that reason, and notwithstanding that such an exception has been so broadly construed as to render the ban meaningless). With Justice Sandra Day O’Connor as the swing vote, the Court struck down the ban in a 5-4 decision.

A lot has changed since the court last took up this issue. Justice O’Connor has retired and Justice Samuel Alito now fills her seat. Also, Chief Justice William Rehnquist has passed away and has been replaced by John Roberts. These changes, most notably the O’Connor-Alito swap, have shifted drastically the dynamics of the court. Both Alito and Roberts say the judiciary has a “limited role.” This case will be a useful indicator as to whether or not the two new justices will be true to their word.

The fact that the Supreme Court has chosen to take this case at all is a hopeful, but not definite, sign that they will overturn the lower court’s decision and that the partial-birth abortion ban finally will go into effect, protecting children across America. If the Supreme Court is planning merely to agree with the lower court, it could easily have decided not to hear the appeal.

Pro-life people across America certainly will be praying that the Supreme Court will issue a decision that respects constitutional principles and the sanctity of human life. No matter what the outcome is, this case should remind the American majority (who believe that partial-birth abortion should be illegal) how important judicial nominations really are. It is hard to build a just society when appointed judges substitute their personal opinions for the laws duly passed by the people’s elected representatives. It is even harder for us to claim that our society is just, so long as infanticide is given constitutional protections it does not deserve.
Ken Connor is a trial lawyer and chairman of the Center for a Just Society based in Washington D.C., online at www.centerforajustsociety.org

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  • Ken Connor