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Implacable foes: pro-life, pro-choice sides clash on Senate Bill 1248

Friday, March 3, 2006

The irresistible force meets the immovable object.

That's how some might see the two sides of the abortion debate. And introduction on Wednesday of Senate Bill 1248 into the Missouri Senate, on top of the likely enactment presently of similar bans in South Dakota and Mississippi, has highlighted the sharp differences between them.

The pro-life side, as might be expected, has welcomed the nearly absolute ban on abortions the bill would establish. "It's an answer to prayer," said Dexter Life Chain organizer Gerald Beam on Thursday afternoon. "In the past, I think the pro-life side has been too accommodating and trusting to the other side.

"And now I think the pendulum of public sentiment is beginning to swing in the opposite direction."

Beam noted the compromises abortion foes have made with abortion supporters, like exceptions to their opposition in cases of pregnancy resulting from rape or incest have yielded no such accommodation from the other side. "A lot of pro-life people have said, 'well, we'll go along with these exceptions for the life and health of the mother," he said.

Beam went on to say that since the pendulum appeared to be swinging in favor of the pro-life view, pro-life forces were much less inclined to "go along to get along."

"So we might agree to an exception for then life of the mother," he said. "But then when you start bringing in the health of the mother, well what is 'health?'"

Beam said any such exceptions for the health of the mother opened the door to dilution of abortion bans to the point of meaninglessness. "What if she says, 'well, I want to go on vacation to Florida with my husband," he said, "'but I can't wear my bathing suit and I'll be depressed because I can't go?'"

Even given the view that momentum appears on the side of forces opposed to abortions, however, Beam did express at least a willingness to entertain one very narrow exception based on health. He said a carefully worded exception to permit an abortion to preserve a woman's future ability to have children -- if such a medical circumstance could be proven to exist -- would at least merit consideration.

"But if it was narrow enough," he said, "I would think a lot of pro-life people could go along with it."

Beam said exceptions made for cases of rape or incest represented grasping at straws by abortion supporters. "Why?" he asked. "The reason is that only 1 to 2 percent of all abortions are due to a rape or incest.

"So here we are struggling over 1 to 2 percent -- we've got the tail wagging the dog."

While Beam refused to characterize the change in views on abortion in the country as a "tidal wave," he was nevertheless pleased with the swing of the pendulum to the pro-life side. "The abortion people have had it their way for too long," he said, "and I think people are tired of it."

Beam particularly singled out use of the Racketeering in Corporate Organizations (RICO) law by abortion supporters against picketers of abortion clinics as one of the abuses that he suggested had alienated increasing numbers of people. "RICO provides for a $250,000 fine," he said, "and maybe jail time, for innocently holding a sign out there on the sidewalk."

Beam acknowledged he had never heard of any actually having to pay a $250,000 fine for abortion protests. "But to even come with [an application of RICO] against somebody who is using their Constitutional right," he said, "that's a bit of a stretch."

Beam said he fully expected -- and welcomed -- a court challenge to the law if it is enacted. He anticipated the two new Supreme Court justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, would result in the law being upheld, rather than overturned as had been the case for abortion bans routinely in the past. "I think we've got two excellent Supreme Court justices out there," Beam concluded.

Allison Gee, spokesperson of Planned Parenthood of St. Louis, had a somewhat different view of SB1248. "Basically," she said in a Wednesday afternoon telephone interview, "I think it's pretty outrageous."

She said it was ironic to the point of absurdity that the legislators seeking to eliminate abortion were the same one who she said were also seeking to restrict the availability of contraceptives.

Gee also noted that under current law, as represented by the landmark case of Roe vs. Wade in 1973, made what the Supreme Court has generally ruled were exceptions for the health of the mother, as well as her life. "Under current law," she said, "health has been upheld. And [in SB1248] it's deliberately not there."

Gee added such an exception, an abortion ban had to contain an exception for the mother's health to be Constitutional. As noted above, supporters of the bill in Missouri, as well as those in South Dakota and Mississippi, are expecting legal challenges would result in the laws banning abortions to be upheld.

Gee sidestepped a question on whether a narrow health exemption to preserve a woman's ability to have children would be acceptable, by pointing out correctly that no health exception of any kind was in the bill. "So here we are with a bill that has no health exception," she said.

Gee also sidestepped a question addressing the objections of the pro-life side to health exceptions as making abortion bans meaningless. "Why are these people not going to the core issue," she said, "of unintended pregnancy? That's why women seek abortions: because they become pregnant unintentionally."

For all her opposition to the bill aimed at banning abortions in Missouri, Gee said 80 percent of Planned Parenthood's activities were focused on preventing, rather than terminating, pregnancies. She said there were ways to avoid abortions, including access to contraceptives and emergency contraceptives.

The latter, she explained, worked the same way as FDA-approved regular contraceptives -- birth control pills -- but were in exceptionally large dosages. Such emergency contraceptives, Gee said, could be used after a situation occurred in which unintended pregnancy was a possibility. But she was quick to point out such emergency contraceptives were not the same as the widely reported RU-486 "abortion pill."

"And yet again these same legislators [who support SB1248] are making it hard to get these services," she said, "and making it harder for kids in school to get information about contraception."

When asked to speculate why it was the Missouri legislature had joined those of South Dakota and Mississippi -- "I think there are nine or 10 states now" -- seeking to enact abortion bans, Gee did not note any intent to get Roe vs. Wade overturned. "There is certainly, I would say, an attempt not to be left out," she said. "Heaven forbid Missouri should not also have an abortion ban bill being heard.

"But why are these legislators, if they're so concerned about women, so concerned about women's health, so concerned about reducing abortions, why are they making it harder for them to get contraception?"

Gee concluded by saying a study by the Guttmacher Institute had indicated increased access to contraception led to decreased incidence of abortion, "by maybe up to as many as half."

"So there is some middle ground," she said. "Let's join together and try to reduce unintended pregnancies -- that's the core issue.

"If women don't get pregnant unintentionally, they won't ever have to face the decision whether to terminate a pregnancy."

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