Why This? Why Now?
Part One: Inventors on the Bench
Late-term abortions (those after 20 weeks) have been legal in the U.S.
since Roe v. Wade came down in 1973. But suddenly, in 1993, a frenzy of leglisation sprung up addressing late abortion. One by one, the laws have been struck down by the courts. Why is this happening so late in the game?
Before Roe v. Wade, there was literally no such thing as a late term
abortion. If you look in dictionaries and medical books, you'll see that
the definition of "abortion"
is "Termination of pregnancy and expulsion of an embryo or of a fetus that is incapable of survival." Such procedures were illegal for most of the
20th century. But if abortion -- elective destruction of the fetus before
viability -- was illegal, what happened if a woman's life was in danger
late in the pregnacy?
There used to be few options for those instances. Before antibiotics,
a c-section had a high maternal mortality rate. Some doctors weren't willing
to place the woman in this great a danger and would instead perform the
operation." (I've learned that in developing nations, the "destructive operation" is still done in desperate circumstances, but only if the fetus has already died.) This involved crushing the emerging infant's
skull with an evil-looking device called a cranioclast. Since killing the
infant was such a drastic act, it was a great balancing act for the doctor,
who would try to wait until the baby had died before crushing its skull.
But if he waited too long, the laboring mother might die. These were not
elective procedures chosen by mothers who simply changed their minds about
having a baby -- they were desperate, life-saving measures.
Doctors who used the "destructive operation" in good conscience
were not prosecuted. So we see, even back in the "bad old days"
when abortion was illegal, doctors were still permitted to take whatever
steps were necessary to save a laboring mother's life. But such procedures
were not classed as abortion -- which was destroying the fetus before it
was old enough to survive outside the womb. These were cases of feticide
which simply were not prosecuted. No reputable doctor would dream of destroying
a viable infant for any reason other than to save the mother's life.
After the advent of antibiotics, emergency c-sections replaced the "destructive
operation." If the mother's life was endangered late in the pregnancy,
both mother and child could be saved. This was hailed as a great medical
idea of deliberately killing a viable late-term infant was a horrific reminder
of the pre-antibiotic days of the cranioclast -- a return to the medical
Now, however, deliberately killing an infant that could be born live
is no longer feticide. It's abortion -- a protected right. So what happened?
The answer is that the Supreme Court, in writing Roe, made up their own
definition of abortion -- the killing and removal of a fetus at any stage
of gestation. Late term abortions, in short, were invented by the Supreme
Court. What had been a barbaric reminder of the horrific days predating
antibiotics was suddenly couched as progressive and liberating.
And what was the status of these newly-invented abortions? Were they
reserved for life-threatening situations? Roe said that the states could,
if they chose, ban such abortions as long as the ban includes provisions
for protecting the health of the mother. To put the final flourish on their
new invention, the Supreme Court handed down a companion decision to Roe: Doe
v. Bolton. Doe defines maternal health in such broad terms that simply
wanting the abortion would meet the criteria. If a woman can convince a
doctor to do the abortion, it meets Doe's "health" standards.
So, with a few words, the Supreme Court invents late-term abortions
and allows the states to ban only those late-term abortions doctors in
that state are unwilling to do. Although these feticides are defended as
necessary on "medical" grounds, this defense is patently facetious.
Modern medicine had progressed to where destroying the infant was no longer
necessary to save the mother's life. The cranioclast had been relegated
to the museum
-- suitable for a chamber of horrors. Why, in a time when no viable infant
need die to save his mother's life, is such destruction suddenly defensible?
That's a question abortion defenders evade.
NEXT: The New Invention Put Into Practice
The Why This? Why Now? Series:
Part 1 - Inventors on the Bench
Part 2 - New Invention Put Into Practice
Part 3 - Addressing The Problem
Part 4 - New Opportunities
Part 5 - NAF and NRC Collide
Part 6 - Now What?
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