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Hypocrisy in Abortion Vote

March 19, 2003

Here's what a majority of senators refused to do last week as they voted to jail doctors who perform late-term abortions:

* Require private health plans to cover prescription birth control for women in the same way they do other doctor-prescribed drugs, including Viagra for men. A handful of states, including California, already require employers that do business only within their borders to cover prescription birth control. But there are no federal mandates.

* Pass a proposal to make emergency contraception -- the so-called morning-after pill -- more widely available to women who fear becoming pregnant as a result of unprotected sex, including rape. The pill prevents ovulation or, when ovulation has already occurred, can prevent fertilization or implantation in the uterus.

In short, as senators thundered about what they consider an immoral procedure, they rejected the two sensible steps put forward by Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) that would prevent many unintended pregnancies and abortions.

For The Record
Los Angeles Times Saturday March 22, 2003 Home Edition California Part B Page 22 Editorial Pages Desk 0 inches; 26 words Type of Material: Correction
Senate minority leader -- An editorial Wednesday about a vote on late-term abortion legislation in Congress incorrectly said Sen. Tom Daschle (D-S.D.) was from North Dakota.

Ninety percent of all abortions are done in the first 12 weeks of pregnancy. The Supreme Court permits states to bar abortion after 23 weeks, when the fetus might be able to live.

The late-term controversy focuses on the in-between second trimester. Abortion at this point is already a matter for anguish, for example among couples who discover that their baby would have catastrophic deformities. Doctors once induced labor in these women, sometimes causing uterine rupture. The method that Congress just banned, except to save a woman's life, is more likely to preserve her ability to have children. The procedure involves dilating the cervix and removing the fetus, often killing it as it emerges. The House passed the same ban last year and the president says he will quickly sign the measure.

Senators who declared themselves repulsed by second-trimester abortions nevertheless passed a bill that still allows methods that are riskier to the woman. Democrats have made abortion rights a party plank. Yet Sen. Tom Daschle (D-N.D.), the party's scared-of-his-shadow leader, voted with the Republican majority. Sens. John Edwards (D-N.C.) and John Kerry (D-Mass.) -- both presidential hopefuls -- just stayed home.

Some dismiss the late-term ban as symbolic politics. But for women whose pregnancies have turned tragic, the ban will add real torment. For doctors trying to do what's best for patients, it could mean real jail time. The Senate's summary rejection of Murray's contraceptive amendments, aside from its hypocrisy, also fuels fear of a broader attack on women's reproductive rights.

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