Friday, January 6, 2012

When the anti-choice choose

Inducing labor to deliver a fetus with no chance of survival is the same thing as having an abortion.

So why is this rarely discussed method of termination acceptable to many in the religious right, yet a D&E at 20 weeks constitutes mortal sin?

I venture to guess that many women faced with the miserable news that their second trimester pregnancies are non-viable would opt for the surgical route. I know I would. Why suffer through labor, knowing there's no chance of a live baby at the end of the ordeal?

But sometimes medical factors don't allow enough time to perform the safe and recommended three day, second trimester D&E procedure. Sometimes,the presence of the terminally flawed fetus in the womb causes such severe infection as to pose an immediate threat to the life of the expectant mother.

Delivery, whether by labor or by cesarean operation, becomes the only medically practicable recourse.

Such were the tragic circumstances faced by Karen Santorum, wife of suddenly relevant presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, back in 1996. Depending on which newspaper you consult, Ms. Santorum was 19 or 20 weeks pregnant when her fetus caused her to nearly lose her life to a massive infection. A devout Roman Catholic, Ms. Santorum nonetheless opted to deliver a severely pre-mature child with no chance of survival instead of laying down her own life.

For that, I applaud her rationality. Surely it's better to let a non-viable fetus die than to let a mother orphan her existing brood.

And no, this post isn't a cheap shot. Ms. Santorum wrote a book about her experience, and she routinely lends her voice and resources to a number of anti-choice causes. She opened the public dialogue about a subject most people regard as an intensely private matter.

And yet her husband, who was by all accounts present for the duration of her awful ordeal, opposes all abortions, even those medically indicated to save the life of the mother.

Few things rankle me like hypocrisy.

But anti-intellectualism comes close. There's simply no way around the fact that Ms. Santorum terminated her unhealthy pregnancy. She faced a horrible choice. But she made her choice.

Her husband would deny other women the same options.

Regular readers know I'm staunchly pro-choice. I believe in stem cell research and contraception. I believe in free access to safe elective abortion. I trust a woman to decide whether she wants to become a mother, and I think this country would be a better place if the religious right worried more about the millions of children living in poverty in our country than about telling women what to do with their bodies.

I don't think a zygote, or a fetus for that matter, counts as a human being. I usually dismiss the debate over late term abortions as a red herring thrown up by the anti-choice lobby. According to the Guttmacher Institute, one per cent of terminations take place after the 20th week of pregnancy.

And of those, the overwhelming majority are performed because the fetus is dead or dying, and/or the mother's life faces an immediate threat.

The thing that bothers me most of all is that, if Mr. Santorum got his way, well-heeled women like his wife would still be able to receive the elective abortion care they desired.

Albeit by forking out cash to travel, or by paying a trusted physician off the books. An extra hoop gets added.

But the result would be that the haves of America would maintain a privilege that the have nots would forfeit. That feels un-American to me.

So why am I once again preaching to the converted? (I'm smart enough to know my blog doesn't make many anti-choice reading lists.) Because some of my readers are in the one per cent.

And some of them admittedly vote their wallets, even if they might disagree fervently on a candidate's position on the "social" issues.

When Santorum surges so late in the process, and I mean in terms of fundraising, not in terms of convincing a bunch of white, evangelical Iowans to caucus for him, it serves to remind us that elections have consequences beyond our wallets. And this time around, a vote for the GOP, whether you're "only a fiscal conservative" or not, is a vote against the rights of women.

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