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ISSUE 120 VOL 20 PUBLISHED 5/4/2007

Court ruling harms health

By Lisa Gulya
Staff Writer

Friday, May 4, 2007

"For or against abortion?" a student asked. "Did they rule for or against abortion?" Flustered by the abruptness of her question, I answered, "Against." Satisfied, the student continued on her way to dinner.

I can't take back my words, but fortunately, I can correct my mistake (though not the Court's) by writing this article. On April 18, the Supreme Court did not rule against abortion in Gonzales v. Carhart. Not exactly. Even pro-choicers are unsure about the implications of this ruling. It's true that 85 to 90 percent of abortions in the United States take place during the first trimester.

The banned procedure, intact D&E to the medical community and partial-birth abortion to its opponents, is a technique used primarily for second-trimester abortions -- though it can be used as early as 12 to 15 weeks into a pregnancy.

As Justice Ginsberg writes in her dissent, intact D&E is "a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG)." According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 2,200 women and doctors decide each year that this procedure is best.

This ruling will not stop women from having abortions. As Ginsberg writes, "The law saves not a single fetus from destruction." Instead, it "bars a woman from choosing intact D&E although her doctor 'reasonably believes [that procedure] will best protect [her].'"

Therein lies the problem: the ban prohibits the procedure even when it would best protect a woman's health. In certain cases, as Ginsberg points out, banning this procedure means unnecessarily exposing women to the risk of infection, hemorrhage and even infertility.

While Justice Kennedy wrote that the procedure is "never medically necessary," Justice Ginsberg countered in her dissent that Kennedy's ruling ignored "hundreds and hundreds of pages of testimony identifying 'discrete and well-defined instances' in which recourse to an intact D&E would better protect the health of women with particular conditions."

These "particular conditions" may include a fetus with an abnormality, such as severe hydrocephalus, as Ginsberg points out, or heart disease, as Estes notes from previous experience.

Anyone who has been closely involved in a pregnancy knows how complicated they can be. My parents' next door neighbor gave birth last week. The delivery was induced a few weeks early because our neighbor had discovered a cancerous lump in her breast and needed to have surgery as soon as possible, a procedure unsafe to undergo while pregnant.

I'm thankful that our neighbor didn't have this complication earlier in her pregnancy, but this event following so closely after the Court's ruling leads me to the "What if?"s. What if she had discovered the lump a few months earlier? What if the cancer had been further developed?

Those questions are difficult to answer. But just because a decision is difficult to make does not mean the Court should be so patronizing as to overrule the knowledge of the medical establishment and the moral agency of a woman herself. The solution is not to limit women's options, removing physicians' and women's right to decide what's best. If women seem to be poorly informed about the procedure, as Kennedy contests, the solution is not to ban its use; it is to assure that women are given more information so that they can safeguard their own health.

So to the question, “Did they rule for or against abortion?” the answer is, “They ruled against women’s health.”

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