The Battle over Abortion

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Crusades and contests between those who advocate "choice"and "life''

We must do everything we 'can under our constitutional system to stop the killing of unborn children. We're talking about life and death." So said Carl Anderson, legislative aide to Republican Senator Jesse Helms, at a Conservative Political Action Conference a week ago in Washington, D.C. The words were no less harsh at a seminar of 80 women held in a Manhattan town house. Said Harriet Pilpel, general counsel for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, a privately funded family-planning service: "If the bills pending before Congress pass and are not held to be unconstitutional, there will be very little privacy left at all for any fertile woman."

Abortion. It is, without question, the most emotional issue of politics and morality that faces the nation today. The language of the debate is so passionate and polemical, and the conflicting, irreconcilable values so deeply felt, that the issue could well test the foundations of a pluralistic system designed to accommodate deep-rooted moral differences. Says Philadelphia Surgeon Dr. Everett Koop, an antiabortion activist whom Reagan plans to nominate as Surgeon General: "Nothing like it has separated our society since the days of slavery." On one side are the crusaders "for life," who argue on religious and moral grounds that abortion is the murder of an unborn person (the fetus) and thus should be outlawed by constitutional amendment. On the other side are crusaders "for choice," who contend that abortion is a right that women must have if they are ever to be free to control their own bodies, indeed, their own lives.

The political battle over abortion involves the role that Government should play in the decision by a woman to terminate her pregnancy. Should abortion be banned? Should it be funded for those who are poor? In considering such explosive questions, legislators have plunged themselves into the middle of a war zone. "It's the toughest issue I've had to deal with in 20 years of public life," says newly elected Republican Senator Alien Specter of Pennsylvania. Predicts Barbara Shack, of the New York Civil Liberties Union: "The abortion fight is the political battle of the '80s."

The Supreme Court clearly intended to forestall just this kind of confrontation by its 1973 decision in the case of Roe vs. Wade. Speaking for the 7-to-2 majority, Associate Justice Harry Blackmun ruled that women have a constitutional right to an abortion for at least the first six months of pregnancy. It was bitterly attacked by some legal scholars as well as pro-life advocates, but the decision has basically remained the law of the land despite Supreme Court decisions that subsequently nibbled away at the hard edges of the ruling. Last week, for example, in a case involving a Utah statute, the court decreed that states may require a doctor to notify the parents of minors seeking abortions. The court emphasized, however, that the decision did not apply to "emancipated" minors, such as those who support themselves, or "mature" minors capable of making informed decisions about their own health and welfare.

Since Roe vs. Wade, the annual number of abortions performed in the U.S. has risen from 744,600 to 1.5

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