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25 Years of Wasted Zealotry

January 16, 1998|PATT MORRISON

Goodness, where has the time gone?

Twenty-five years ago next Thursday--as luck would have it, the same date Queen Victoria died in 1901--seven U.S. Supreme Court justices outvoted their two colleagues and declared that the right of privacy extends to a woman getting an abortion without finding herself or her doctor being sent to jail for it.

Simple. Obvious. Next case.

Curious, isn't it, that in the quarter-century since, abortion has become the least private matter on the national agenda (next to President Clinton's underwear)?

Twenty-five years of screaming and preaching and millions in propaganda money . . . all the zealots and scolds like those who stalked and picketed my OB-GYN friend and red-painted the sidewalk in front of her house with the word "murderer" . . . the "pro-life" men who shot and killed five abortion clinic workers in the last five years. If all that venom and vehemence in the wake of Roe vs. Wade had been turned to worthwhile ends, then perhaps we'd have programs and policies, birth control and counseling.

The women I know who have had an abortion wanted to love and care for their children properly, with a father, in a home--the very picket-fence family fantasy some of those very zealots also cherish.

They are more loving women by far than the self-righteous who believe the biological title "mother" excuses any failing. They are more loving than the careless teenager or the indifferent woman whose children, begotten in heedlessness and born into indifference, are destined for police files or newspaper stories: left alone, shaken, neglected, beaten, burned, starved, even dumped into a trash can on prom night.

But hey--at least Miss Prom Queen didn't have an abortion.


It was hard to know where to rubberneck first at the Planned Parenthood luncheon at the Biltmore this week marking the Roe vs. Wade anniversary.

There was the superb Dina Merrill--a Republican, she told the crowd merrily, and intending to stay one, but with a little mid-course correction from the party--and the remarkable Sarah Weddington, who as a 26-year-old pleaded her first contested case and won it: Roe vs. Wade.

And there were young doctors and lawyers, not yet born in 1973, who cannot imagine a world even before Roe, before the 1965 Griswold vs. Connecticut ruling, where advising a married couple about contraception was a crime.


Knocking on the Supreme Court's front door has so far failed to overturn Roe vs. Wade, so antiabortion forces have spent years worrying at the windows and back door, chewing away bit by bit, state by state, like mice in a cupboard, with restrictions like these:

* A 24-hour waiting period for an abortion. A burden and expense for a woman who has to travel to a clinic, a rule not imposed for breast cancer treatment or breast implants. And patronizing: Go home and think it over? What woman hasn't? Here's what they must think we think: "Gee, Thursday. What should I do today--get an abortion, or a manicure?"

* Parental consent. (I thought the idea was keeping courts and government out of family values.) Kids don't need permission to get pregnant, and not having a note from home won't stop the contractions nine months later.

* The defunct gag rule. At any clinic that got any federal funding, patients could not be told about abortion options. Think of an orthopedic surgeon being able to tell a patient not that he could have his broken leg set--only amputated. (Abortion, about the most common surgical procedure in the country, is the safest; first trimester deaths per 100,000 are less than one; for tonsillectomies, it's three in 100,000.)

There's much more beyond the marble steps of the Supreme Court: wrongheaded medical insurance that pays for abortions but not for birth control pills; doctors who forget to tell women that antibiotics can make birth control pills useless; and the hysteria about RU-486, the so-called abortion pill, whose approval means women won't need to go to clinics, and that deprives abortion foes of the chance to wave their bottled fetuses.

Let's say we go down that road, all the way. Make abortion illegal. Go back to the days when Los Angeles County Hospital had an IOB ward, infected obstetrics--women sick and dying from illegal abortions, self-induced or otherwise. Handcuff them to the beds. Press them to confess. Prosecute them and their doctors. Sentence them to prison. There's lots of room.

And, of course, declare the fetus a person from Cell One.

Now, if a fetus is a person, then any woman who gets pregnant can claim a tax deduction for a dependent in utero. Hundreds of thousands of women could file 1040 returns claiming dependents, even miscarried ones. The IRS would have to pay out huge refund checks. The government goes bankrupt. The economy collapses. A dictatorship takes over. America as we know it will vanish.

But they'll have gotten their way. Abortion will be illegal.

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