- The Washington Times - Friday, April 20, 2007

America was horrified by the largest mass gun murder in its history this week that killed 32 persons. However, the Supreme Court issued an historic decision to prohibit another form of killing, virtual infanticide, partial-birth abortion. It is the first time in 34 years that the court banned any form of abortion.

The vast majority of abortions will continue. However, with Justice Samuel Alito replacing Sandra Day O’Connor, there is now a narrow pro-life majority on the court, which ruled 5-4 that government has a “legitimate interest in protecting fetal life.” The state “may express profound respect for the life within a woman,” as long as there is no “substantial obstacle to the woman’s exercise of the right to choose.”

Congress said the now-banned procedure had a “disturbing similarity to the killing of a new-born infant.” Therefore, it was concerned with “draw[ing] a bright line that clearly distinguishes abortion and infanticide.”

The court agreed, and described the procedure in startling detail. Of the 1.3 million abortions each year, 88 percent are performed in the first 12 weeks of gestation, the first trimester. They are not at issue here. Nor are most of the abortions performed in the second or third trimester, in a procedure technically called “dilation and evacuation (D&E;).”

The court grimly described D&E;: “The doctor dilates the cervix and then inserts surgical instruments into the uterus and maneuvers them to grab the fetus and pull it back through the cervix and vagina. The fetus is usually ripped apart as it is removed, and the doctor may take 10 to 15 passes to remove it in its entirety.”

What will be banned is a variation called an “intact D&E;” in which “a doctor extracts the fetus intact … pulling out its entire body instead of ripping it apart. In order to allow the head to pass through the cervix, the doctor typically pierces or crushes the skull,” the court explained. It agreed with Congress, that there is a “moral, medical and ethical consensus that partial-birth abortion is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited.”

How many such cases are there? There is no independent reporting, only what the Guttmacher Institute, affiliated with Planned Parenthood, belatedly calculates. In 2000, it estimated there were 2,200 intact D&Es.;

At most, that is the number of lives that will be saved. And since doctors can still perform D&E; dismemberments, perhaps no additional babies will be born.

“That is almost not the issue,” argues Wendy Wright, president of Concerned Women for America. “Now people are aware that abortion is a gruesome and inhumane procedure that takes an innocent life. The Supreme Court has made a number of statements that exude a deep respect for human life.”

She is right. This is the first time since the Roe v. Wade legalizing abortion in 1973, that a majority of the court has expressed concern about life in the womb.

Justice Kennedy argued eloquently that “Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child. The Act recognizes this reality as well. Whether to have an abortion requires a difficult and painful moral decision…. Some women come to regret their choice to abort the infant life they once created and sustained.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who used to work for the American Civil Liberties union, found the decision “alarming,” and objected vehemently that “this way of thinking reflects the ancient notions of the woman’s place in the family,” ideas “long since discredited.” Hooray. She is finally in the minority.

What’s the significance of the ruling? Physicians often are intentionally vague about details of an abortion. The court said women must be “well informed” if they are not to “struggle with grief more anguished and sorrow more profound” when learning only after the event that “she allowed a doctor to pierce the skull and vacuum the fast-developing brain of her unborn child.”

State laws must require giving women considering an abortion, exact details of how her baby will be killed. She then has a choice. She might continue with the abortion.

Or she may decide to deliver her baby and give it up for adoption, which is very rare today. Of the 1.5 million babies born out of wedlock, only 22,000 are adopted.

The Supreme Court has become more responsible. Churches should also become more responsible by praising the long-neglected virtue of chastity and by urging unwed pregnant women to consider adoption.

Hopefully, the long-term consequence of this decision is that more women will refuse casual sex, so- called “hook-ups.”

Michael J. McManus is a syndicated columnist of “Ethics & Religion” and president and co-chairman of Marriage Savers in Potomac, Md.

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