Cynthia Gorney on Partial-Birth Abortion
From “Gambling With Abortion: Why both sides think they have everything to lose,” by Cynthia Gorney, in the November 2004 Harper’s Magazine.
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, which is the only federal law ever to include the phrases “gruesome and inhumane” and “removing the baby’s brains,” was signed last November by George W. Bush and has just been declared unconstitutional by three separate U.S. District Court judges. Its next stop is the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal. If John Kerry wins the presidency, defending the ban will be a very low priority of the new attorney general; if Bush is reelected, the ban will be hauled vigorously toward the Supreme Court amid much anticipatory excitement about the possibility of new Bush appointees and the reshaping of American abortion law. In either case, the ban will have accomplished half its mission. This story is about that mission, and about how one abortion doctor and one right-to-life cartoonist helped set off the most sustained and rhetorically high-pitched battle in the forty-year history of this country’s abortion wars.
The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban does not prohibit what most people think it prohibits. It is not a late-abortion law. Apart from a single quoted remark in its “findings” section, which is a kind of declaratory preface, the ban contains no mention at all of third-trimester abortion, or of any gestational point in pregnancy. It criminalizes only by method, outlawing some actions during a pregnancy termination but not others, meaning that as practical legislation—isolated from its mission, that is, and considered solely as a directive on what physicians may and may not do in a procedure room—it makes clear ethical sense only to people who don’t spend much time thinking about abortion. Defending the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban in court, as teams of Justice Department lawyers were dispatched this spring and summer to do, requires arguing to judges that pulling a fetus from a woman’s body in dismembered pieces is legal, medically acceptable, and safe; but that pulling a fetus out intact, so that if the woman wishes the fetus can be wrapped in a blanket and handed to her, is appropriately punishable by a fine, or up to two years’ imprisonment, or both.
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On a Friday in January, 6 of 20 patients in the women’s ward were recovering from attempted abortions. One, a 25-year-old schoolteacher, lay in bed moaning and writhing. She had been treated at the hospital a week earlier for an incomplete abortion and now was back, bleeding and in severe pain. She was taken to the operating room once again and anesthetized, and Emmanuel Makanza, who had treated her the first time, discovered that he had failed to remove all the membranes formed during the pregnancy. Once again, he scraped the inside of her womb with a curet, a metal instrument. It was a vigorous, bloody procedure. This time, he said, it was complete. Mr. Makanza is an assistant medical officer, not a fully trained physician. Assistant medical officers have education similar to that of physician assistants in the United States, but with additional training in surgery. They are Tanzania’s solution to a severe shortage of doctors, and they perform many basic operations, like Caesareans and appendectomies. The hospital in Berega has two. — “The Deadly Toll of Abortion by Amateurs,” Denise Grady, The New York Times
Butterflies and flower [tattoos] are most popular with [Iraqi] girls, he said. Men prefer skulls, a barbed-wire-like design, Metallica and the names of daughters, wives and girlfriends. Some ask for a dragon. A teenage boy wanted a Harley-Davidson motorcycle. The Internet has been influential, he said, as have satellite TV channels. But as he sees it, his success is a legacy of the presence of tens of thousands of American troops in his country. “They’re the origin of all of it,” he said. “They’re teaching us how to act.” — “A Quiet but Undeniable Cultural Legacy: U.S. Occupation will end, but its cultural influences on Iraq will live on,” Anthony Shadid, Washington Post
Opposite the Museum of Chinese History on the east side of the square, I took a photograph of my son standing in front of a garish maroon, yellow and orange potted flower display. The slogan above read: One World, One Dream. In early May 1989, during the students’ mass hunger strike, I had told my friend that if the army came to the square and turned their guns on us, I would take her straight into the museum for cover. “You think they’d turn their guns on us?” she laughed. “Are you crazy?” She was wearing a straw hat at the time, with the words “Sorrow! Joy!” printed on the front. Like almost everyone else, she couldn’t believe that the People’s Liberation Army would shoot innocent civilians. On May 28 1989, my brother had an accident in my hometown of Qingdao and fell into a coma. I immediately left Beijing to look after him, so I didn’t witness the massacre of 4 June. (Perhaps if I had, I would never have been able to write about it.) My friend Li Lanju, the head of a Hong Kong student association, told me that in the early hours of 4 June she too had been sitting here in front of the museum. She saw PLA soldiers in green helmets pour out from inside and line up on the steps in front. A boy of about 15 ran towards the soldiers with a rock in his hand and shouted, “You just shot my brother! I want to avenge his death!” Li Lanju rushed over to him and pulled him back. But a few minutes later, a man ran past carrying the same boy in his arms. He was dead now, his face covered in blood. The Museum of Chinese History holds no records of those events that happened below its front steps. I walked over to my son and bought him a panda-shaped ice cream on a stick. (Back in London, a month later, his mother and I were horrified to learn that the dairy products we’d been feeding him and his three-year-old sister had been contaminated with kidney-stone inducing melamine. The Chinese government had known that unscrupulous farmers had been adulterating milk to increase profit margins, but had suppressed all news of the scandal to avoid spoiling their Olympics propaganda pageant.) — “The great Tiananmen taboo,” Ma Jian, The Guardian
Mexican workers sending less money home; “He Shall Be Levi: And he shall take issue with Sarah Palin. And he shall not abstain from loving Bristol. And he shall spend much time hunting bears. And, yes, he shall be a good man,” by Harper’s Contributing Editor John Jeremiah Sullivan