Politics & Policy

“Life Altering”

The pain of a life-ender.

The Beltway demagogues who sound alarms about abortion opponents seeking to ruin (and end!) women’s lives, ought to stop and think about the women who’ve had and are currently suffering from abortions.

Folks in South Dakota recently did just that. The South Dakota Task Force to Study Abortion, created by the state legislature to look at how best the state could “protect the rights, interests and health of pregnant mothers,” just churned out a report, as it was tasked to do. Besides “experts” and activists, just short of 2,000 women who have had abortions–perhaps the real experts–communicated with the committee. The report relays testimonies of, “a pattern of shared experiences and trauma and a common sense of loss.” As one woman told them of her abortion: “I carry the guilt and shame with me every day.”

On a topic usually drowning in euphemisms, where “choice” is used more often than “abortion,” some women testified that for them, legal abortion gave them no precious “choice.” To the contrary, the report says: “The overwhelming majority of women testified that they would never have considered an abortion if it were not legal. Many revealed that they feel that the legalization of abortion simply gave a license to others to pressure them into a decision they otherwise would not have made.” Others “relate that they were coerced into having the abortion by the father of the child or a parent, and that the abortion clinics also apply pressure. They almost uniformly express anger toward the abortion providers, their baby’s father or society in general, which promotes abortion as a great right–the exercise of which is good for women.”

Women told the task force that they believe they were lied to. “If I had known that there was an existing living human being whose life would be terminated, I would have factored that into my considerations, and I surely would not have submitted to the procedure, and I would not have consented to it.”

Just excuses for behavior regretted in hindsight? Maybe. But when you consider the heart-wrenching life-and-death finality of abortion, and the perversely unnatural mainstream acceptance (at least in our law) of mothers rejecting motherhood in the most final way … we ought to listen.

As you can imagine, the report is not without its controversy. Abortion advocates have complained about an anti-abortion bias from the start and last-minute changes to the report–some members of the task force have issued a minority report of their own for some of these reasons. But even with flaws–reading the report reveals it is unnecessarily heavy-handed, for instance–there’s something that resonates about the testimony it describes. It echoes the sentiments of many women who have had abortions. It’s not an in-and-out-and-it’s-over procedure. It is “life altering,” as one woman told the task force. And the “choice” affects more than just the woman undergoing the abortion.

To be honest, though, I might be heavy-handed, too. Consider, for instance, the attitude emanating from a late-December Washington Post piece bemoaning how rare abortion has become in South Dakota–a state where abortionists are imported from other states because South Dakota doctors have determined that “offering the procedure is not worth the stigma of being branded a baby killer.” Perhaps pangs of conscience, as they remember the doctor’s do-no-harm oath of Hippocrates? And that’s not just the sentiments of pro-lifers. In a January interview with Nightline (and elsewhere), an Arkansas abortionist admits he kills life when he proudly performs an abortion. “I consider the mother’s life to be much more important than that little blob of tissue, and that’s all it is at that time,” he said.

One otherwise thoughtful abortion advocate told the South Dakota task force, “The decision to have an abortion is still voluntary even if some women experience sadness or other feelings at some point after the procedure,” dismissing “assertions” “that there are unique and significant psychological harms as a result of abortion.” In a prebuttal to the report, Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes used a regulation to explain why the state of “accessing abortion” in South Dakota is “pretty dire,” South Dakota “has a mandatory delay law requiring a woman to wait 24 hours before she can get an abortion.”

In a country that feels the need to take what should just be common sense–parental-notification laws and partial-birth-abortion bans–to the Supreme Court for resolution and has influential folks who think a 24-hour delay is a heavy impediment to a life altering (and ending) decision, we could use a few more task forces on abortion, examining what 33 years of Roe v. Wade has wrought. The South Dakota report isn’t perfect, but the instinct to be listening to the victims of abortions who are still around (more than half, obviously, never able to speak for themselves) is not a bad one. As my friends at Feminists for Life like to say, “Women deserve better,” as do the children who never get to be born and a society that has let a faux pursuit of happiness trump the once-inalienable right to life.

(c) 2006, Newspaper Enterprise Assn.

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