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Volume 69, Issue 47, Wednesday, October 29, 2003


Abortion ban is on the right track

Albert Castle
Opinion Columnist 

When our most valued principles of life and liberty clash as directly as with the issue of abortion, there is no simple solution. Abortion has been one of the most controversial issues in the United States for the past few decades and is bound to continue to spur on debate as both anti-abortion and abortion rights movements attack one another in the courts and on Capitol Hill in a political battle that has abandoned the fundamental nature of the issue.

The Senate voted Oct. 21 to ban partial-birth abortions, the first federal ban on abortion since the Supreme Court's 1973 Roe v. Wade decision confirming a woman's right to end a pregnancy. 

In a so-called partial birth abortion, the fetus is partially delivered, usually in breech position. The doctor uses surgical scissors to pierce the fetus's head at the base of the skull and enlarge the opening. A suction catheter is then inserted into the skull cavity and its contents are evacuated. 

Many partial birth abortions occur in the second and third trimesters, when the fetus is almost completely developed and would be able to survive outside the womb. Such a procedure performed so late in a pregnancy should sound ethical alarms even with the most resolute abortion advocates.

Despite Congress' and the president's adamant support of the bill, Democrats, as well as some conservatives, doubt it will be upheld by the Supreme Court since it differs little from a Nebraska law struck down by the high court in 2000. 

Like similar state laws, it does not contain an exception for cases in which a mother's health is at stake, and critics claim its definition of the practice is far too vague, making it unclear to doctors which procedures are illegal.

To many Democrats, the bill seems to be purely political -- an attempt by conservatives to eventually abolish abortion in the United States -- and they're probably correct. Critics claim that by passing a measure that seems likely to be struck down by the court, conservatives are increasing pressure on President Bush to nominate a strongly anti-abortion candidate for the next Supreme Court.

Most Americans feel abortion is justified within the first trimester of pregnancy, particularly when fertilization is a result of rape or incest, and that this should be reflected in our legislation. Instead, partisan politics are again preventing a compromise from being reached. While the abortion rights movement strives to maintain virtually unrestricted abortion, anti-abortion advocates push for its complete abolition. There is no middle ground. 

If anti-abortion advocates are seriously committed to saving the lives of the unborn, passing inadequate bans on abortion is only detrimental to their cause. A partial birth abortion ban that addresses the procedure with sufficient consideration is a step in the right direction, but Democrats would be hesitant to accept such legislation because they know conservatives won't stop there. 

As long as this senseless controversy continues, countless unborn but nearly developed children will continue to be aborted against the consensus of the public. Anti-abortionists need to realize an overwhelming majority of Americans do not support the complete abolition of abortion. Abortion rights advocates, in turn, should realize the inhumanity of late-term abortions and the practicality of setting limits on certain practices.

Until a compromise between life and liberty is reached, the issue of abortion will continue to be a purely political battle between those who have forgotten the meaning of these values.

Castle, a freshman communication major, 
can be reached at


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