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April 15, 2007

Real Life: Why I Chose Abortion

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Seven months later, in November 2003, 14 weeks into my second pregnancy, I gently rubbed my rounded belly, tears rolling down my cheeks as I watched George W. Bush sign the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act on CNN. It would be at least two more weeks before I could learn via ultrasound if this baby squirming around inside my womb was healthy or not. Taking in the scene, I understood that if this baby were plagued with the same genetic defects as my last, any choices I had were being taken away from me.

Once the president signed the act-the first federal ban on any abortion procedure in the 30 years since Roe v. Wade, and the first ban on a surgical technique in the history of this country-the 400-strong crowd at the ceremony exploded in whoops and hollers. "For years a terrible form of violence has been directed against children who are inches away from birth, while the law looked the other way," Bush said. It was time to "defend the life of the innocent."I stared at the screen. The president was, in essence, calling me a baby killer. Even members of the Democratic Party-17 in all-voted for the ban. One of my own senators, John Kerry, perhaps looking to dodge the liberal label in anticipation of his bid for the White House, conveniently missed one of the key votes (as did his future running mate, John Edwards).
According to the Bush administration, the new law would put an end to the "gruesome and inhumane" procedure used to kill healthy babies after the first trimester. But the language of the law was less clear. Essentially, legislators invented a previously nonexistent medical term-"partial-birth abortion"-and then banned it. By giving it a purposely vague definition, the term could feasibly apply to all abortions after the first trimester-including my own.

Legislators also made no mention of fetal viability (the point at which a fetus can live independently of its mother for an extended period of time) or gestational age. There were no exceptions for a fetus with severe birth defects incompatible with life (many of which cannot be detected until well into the second trimester). Nor for a mother who would be forced to have, for example, a kidney transplant or hysterectomy if she continued with the pregnancy."When we look to the unborn child," Bush said into the television cameras, "the real issue is not when life begins, but when love begins."

Over the next 36 months, three federal courts-as well as three appellate courts-struck down the ban as unconstitutional. But on November 8, 2006, the eight men and one woman of the Supreme Court heard two new arguments on the ban-both of which, experts predict, could result in expanding its reach. At press time, a ruling was expected this spring.


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