Abortion Rites


The Schiavo case may have tugged at more hearts, but its impact probably will be less than that of the religious right’s victory in Congress on so-called partial birth abortion.

Women have such late-term abortions because of serious irregularities in the fetus or because continuing the pregnancy endangers their lives or health.

The legislation that George Bush said he will sign bans an abortion when the head or significant parts of the body are outside the mother’s body. This is a rare procedure employed in a tiny number of abortions. The new law contains an exception for protecting the woman’s life but says nothing about protecting her health. In fact, it contains various congressional “findings” that the procedure is never needed to protect the mother’s health. Pro-choice groups argue that the wording of the bill is loose enough to open the door to banning other types of abortion. “The way this law is written, it covers all second-trimester abortions that I do,” Dr. LeRoy Carhart, the lead complainant in litigation to be brought by the Center for Reproductive Rights, told Reuters. “We’ve done all this before in the courts.” Since 1995, a total of 31 state legislatures have passed laws banning partial birth abortions, but all 21 legal challenges to the laws have succeeded.

It’s hard to believe the Supreme Court will buy this bill, which in reality is a roundabout attack on Roe v. Wade, which the high court still upholds. This is a key political moment for the fundamentalists. Knowing that Bush is a likely shoo-in for re-election, they can count on him to appoint new justices to the Supreme Court who will set about finally overthrowing Roe—and institutionalizing the fundamentalists’ authority within the federal government. Observers speak in amazement of the neoconservatives’ ascendancy in setting Bush foreign policy. It is nothing compared with the Christian fundamentalist sweep under way in Washington across a range of domestic issues reaching directly into everyday life in America. We’re coming close to turning the governance of the nation over to a marginalized group within the Christian community.

Additional reporting: Ashley Glacel