It isn't about "partial-birth abortions."
Contrary to almost all media reports on the subject, the annual end-of-the-session orgy of anti-choice frivolity is not at all limited to the fringes of the abortion debate. The public pronouncements are all about "gruesome partial births," "infanticide" and the like -- when the TV cameras and tape recorders are buzzing -- but the actual bill (should anyone care to read it) is quite a different matter.
Even setting aside the trivia item that there is no record of a "partial-birth abortion" ever being performed in Missouri, you'd think a bill described routinely as dealing with "partial-birth" or "late-term" abortions could easily get right to the point. Think again.
The bill, coyly titled the "Infant's Protection Act," makes no mention of "partial-birth abortions." It happens to use the words "partial birth," but then goes on to define that phrase with language not exclusively related to the rare late-term medical procedure that has become all the rage in the anti-abortion camp.
There is no reference to "intact dilation and extraction," the medical phrase for the dreaded (and grossly distorted) late-term abortion method. Instead, the language is so broadly written as to leave its real meaning open to anyone's guess, and thus anyone's legal interpretation.
"A person is guilty of the crime of infanticide if such person knowingly and intentionally kills a living infant: when or after he or she is born; or when or after he or she is partially born," reads the bill. A "living infant" is defined as "a human child, before, during or after birth, who is alive, determined in accordance with the usual and customary standards of medical practice and is not dead as determined pursuant to section 194.005 Rsmo."
It wouldn't be a giant leap to infer that brain function, respiration, circulation and the like -- all of which can occur early in a pregnancy, long before viability -- might be construed to mean that both first- and second-trimester fetuses would meet the new Missouri definition of a "living infant." Maybe that's why those functions were listed specifically in the original bill passed by the House.
The House bill defined "born" as "complete separation of an intact child from the mother, irrespective of the duration of pregnancy, and regardless of whether the umbilical cord is cut or the placenta detached." Using the phrase "irrespective of the duration of pregnancy" transparently showed that this measure was designed to go far beyond late-term abortions.
As the RFT went to press Tuesday, the Senate had apparently amended its bill to strike those six words from the measure, but that isn't final. And their removal doesn't preclude someone construing the "living infant" definition to apply to almost any fetus.
Indeed, the real purpose of this latest assault on women's reproductive rights ultimately is to outlaw all abortion by creating still another nifty test case that might lead the U.S. Supreme Court to overturn its landmark Roe vs. Wade decision. And, of course, to give U.S. Sen. John Ashcroft a fun issue with which to tell lies about Gov. Mel Carnahan in their upcoming battle for Ashcroft's Senate seat.
Fortunately, Carnahan doesn't seem ready to blink. Spokesman Chris Sifford says the governor will veto any "partial-birth" ban that doesn't provide a health exception for the woman.
"The current legislation does not have a health exception, which is not only unconstitutional but bad public policy as well," Sifford says. "Women need to have the opportunity to make decisions, with the help of their physicians, about their own health."
What is it about safeguarding the health of pregnant women that our moral crusaders find so despicable? I couldn't reach the top anti-choice legislators on Tuesday, but it's fair to say that they see any health exception as a "loophole" that would enable murderous abortion providers to kill "living infants" at will.
It's also fair to say that the last thing the anti-choice movement wants is any new abortion-related law that is consistent with Roe vs. Wade to be passed by the Legislature and signed by the governor. What good would that do?
Last week, in supporting the latest "partial-birth-abortion ban" on the U.S. Senate floor, Ashcroft said, "No issue cuts to the core of our values as a people like the issue of abortion."
That's why he's counting on it as a wedge issue against Carnahan, who he challenged to sign a "partial-birth" ban, even though one hasn't yet been sent to him.
"The American people and a substantial majority of their elected representatives in Congress want to eliminate this gruesome procedure from our nation's hospitals and clinics," Ashcroft said. "This procedure is never necessary to save the life and preserve the health of the unborn child's mother."
That's news to Paula Gianino, executive director of Planned Parenthood, whose organization doesn't perform "partial-birth abortions," but who sees women who don't seem to show up on Ashcroft's radar.
"We have women and couples referred to us every day by every hospital in this town where something horrible has gone wrong in a pregnancy," Gianino says. "These women and couples are struggling with the demise and loss of a wanted child and they have to make very difficult decisions in the most tragic circumstances.
"On top of the terrible thing they're going through, they're concerned about their ability to have children again. In some cases, and they are extremely rare, this procedure is the only safe alternative available to them.
"Anyone who knows someone who has gone through this is terribly offended by legislators and lobbyists using these medical emergencies and these rarities to suggest that this is the norm, that these are women who just changed their mind about being pregnant.
"It's just horrible."
That it is. But it's also the basis of a very simple strategy, one articulated by the virulently anti-choice National Review in its current issue:
"Pro-lifers have for years been coming to the conclusion that they should shift their short-term focus away from a Human Life Amendment. They haven't forced a vote on it since 1983. And they started making partial-birth abortion an issue long before any of the current presidential candidates came knocking. The beauty of that issue has been to take the debate down from grand abstractions about 'choice' to the concrete reality of what is being chosen -- to shift public attention from the extremism of pro-lifers to the unjustifiable extremism of pro-choicers."
The "concrete reality" is that there are no "partial-birth abortions" in Missouri, and none are on the horizon, regardless of what the Legislature does or doesn't do. But that hasn't kept the anti-abortion side from inventing the need for such legislation, no doubt "to shift public attention to the unjustifiable extremism of pro-choicers."
That's why we have "partial-birth" legislation that has nothing to do with "partial birth."
It's a big lie.
And there's nothing partial about that.