Correspondence - April 7, 2003

by | April 7, 2003

 UNDER THE INFLUENCE

REGARDING CHARLES KRAUTHAMMER'S piece "Self Service." I would suggest two influences as the sources for the liberal unwillingness to use power for American self-interest (March 3). One is the surprisingly long-lived influence in liberal circles of Stalinist ideas regarding American malevolence, beginning with the (Communist front groups of the 1930s and their co-option of many liberal causes, continuing through the argument over the Vietnam War, which still colors the foreign policy debate today.

The other has been the predominance of the realist school of foreign policy, where national self-interest is defined in the narrowest terms. American liberals have been made suspicious by the use of American power to support dictatorships, the tragic unintended consequences of which have included the reluctance of many peoples around the world to trust our commitment to democracy abroad.

The idealist school, which is currently crafting foreign policy, is not really conservative, Indeed, many are only accidental Republicans, products of the Scoop Jackson wing of the Democratic Party, having left to become Reagan staffers only when the McGovernite takeover proved discouragingly irreversible. They were originally ideological heirs of the anti-communist wing of the labor movement and the Democratic left.

Traditionally, it was not conservatives, the bulk of whom were either realists or isolationists, who espoused American interests. The idealists now framing foreign policy are anything but conservative. Hopefully, their policies will succeed in furthering both American ideals and self-interest and. in doing so, will help to banish the knee-jerk mistrust of American motives both at home and abroad.

ELLEN F. HEYMAN, PH.D.

Springfield. Virginia

 

BODY GUARD

JEFFREY ROSEN CONTENDS THAT Roe V. Wade is not imperiled and that, if it were to be overturned, the nation would be better off ("Worst Choice," February 24). He's wrong on both counts. Roe is in jeopardy. Three justices have long argued for its overturn, and Justice Anthony Kennedy is on record as supporting the elimination of protect ions for women's health and authorizing states to ban safe, common pre-viability abortion procedures. Presidents on average nominate 2.5 justices, and President Bush has pledged to nominate justices whose views accord with those of Antonin Scalia and Clarence Thomas. Thus, with just one more anti-choice justice, the right to choose could be drastically limited.

Rosen's political calculation that Bush would be unlikely to nominate anti choice justices is at odds with Bush's record of lower-court appointments and other actions on reproductive rights. Bush has yet to nominate a court of appeals judge who evinces support for Roe. He has used his executive powers to legally protect stem cells, embryos, and fetuses; to appoint a cadre of anti-choice officials throughout the government; and even to shackle family-planning programs around the world. He is laying the groundwork to argue that Rve was wrongly decided to a receptive judiciary. Meanwhile, he is urging Congress to enact federal restrictions on the right CO choose. Rosen predicts an about-face when Bush gets co nominate a Supreme Court justice; we believe the better predictor of what Bush will do is what he has done.

The nation emphatically would not be better oft if constitutional protection for a woman's right to choose were eliminated. The right to choose is a fundamental freedom, central to women's lives, autonomy, and equality This country does not submit fundamental freedoms to state-by-state, year-by-year, legislature-by-legislature votes. Just as religious freedoms and free speech are constitutionally secured nationwide, a woman's right to make personal and private decisions about reproduction should not depend on the current temper of her state legislators.

The federal judiciary's role would be impoverished if it could not guarantee critical individual rights such as the right to choose. Federal courts sit to protect such freedoms from the vagaries of legislatures hostile to such rights. Furthermore, it is cynical in the extreme to assert, as Rosen does, that the pro-choice movement would be better off if we had to fight criminal bans on abortion year after year across the country. It has been challenging and diversionary to the movement to have bad to fight the 335 anti-choice measures that have been enacted since 1995; it would be catastrophic to have to tight to keep women out of jail and the back alley each legislative session.

Rosen disputes NARAL Pro-Choice America's estimate that twelve states would likely ban abortion in all or most circumstances if Roe is overturned, preferring the lower estimates of Republicans for Choice. scattered political scientists, and Republican consultants who doubt that the public would support such draconian bans. Our finding, from Who Decides? A State-by-State Review of Abortion and Reproductive Rights, is based upon a careful and methodical state-by-state examination of the public positions of governors and each state legislative body. Unlike Rosen and the pundits he relies upon, we do not speculate that politicians will moderate their views when they have the power actually to strip women of their rights. Hard-line, anti-choice incumbents cannot be depended upon to pull back just as they are about to realize their stated goals.

The future of a woman's right to choose faces not only legal and political threats. The right to choose is particularly vulnerable because broad swaths of the pro-choice public are unaware of its fragility.

KATE MICHELMAN
President
NARAL Pro-Choice America
Washington, D.C. 

ROSEN MISUNDERSTANDS PREGNANCY, fetal development, and the campaign to ban so-called "partial-birth abortion": misrepresents the significance of justice Kennedy's dissent in Stenberg v. Carhart; and demonstrates a spectacular disregard for the suffering of individual women.

First, Rosen describes "partial-birth abortion" as a procedure performed in the third trimester. On this point, Rosen has swallowed anti-abortion advocates' spin hook, line, and sinker. In fact, the term was invented in 1995 out of whole cloth by anti-abortion advocates and is a political label, not a particular procedure; it has been defined in more than nine different ways in more than 30 federal and state statutes. While bill sponsors and President Bush alike imply that "partial-birth abortion" is a procedure that is performed after viability, no fewer than 50 federal and state court judges, appointed by Democrats and Republicans alike, including five justices of the U.S. Supreme Court, say otherwise. These judges have recognized that "partial-birth abortion" is not a medical term and has been defined so broadly as to cover the safest and most common methods of abortion used, starting in the early second trimester, long before viability The latest version of this abortion ban, currently pending in Congress, is no different.

Second, Rosen states that a majority of Americans agree that "late" abortions, defined by him as those taking place in the "second trimester," should be illegal, and he asserts that the second trimester is "when the fetus becomes viable," However, the second trimester is generally considered to run from the fourteenth week of pregnancy until the twenty-sixth week, and viability does not occur until the very end of the second trimester or the beginning of the third trimester, around 24 to 28 weeks of pregnancy. Moreover, the same poll cited by Rosen also indicates that the majority of Americans still think Roe was a good thing for the country and that abortions should be available when a woman's health is endangered, as well as in cases of fetal anomaly.

Third, Rosen is wrong when he claims "Roe is not hanging by a thread" and when he downplays the importance of justice Kennedy's dissent in Carhart. The point on which Justice Kennedy dissented in that case, and the reason his opinion has caused such alarm among supporters of the right to choose abortion, was the Court's reaffirmation of a woman's right to obtain abortions in a way that preserves her health. Under Kennedy's reasoning, a state would be able to legislate the way in which the physician performs the abortion without regard to the woman's health, and even if the legislation adds unnecessary risks.

Finally, Rosen's idea that it would be good for pro-choice Americans to subject to majority control the right of individual women to control their own bodies, Co terminate their pregnancies, and to choose the safest procedure modern medicine has to offer at best reveals naïveté about the power of those who believe women should be forced to carry unwanted pregnancies to term; and it reveals ignorance about the burden of pregnancy and childbirth. The fact is, whether it is twelve states that would ban abortions immediately upon reversal of Roe or "only" a few, as Rosen predicts, these bans would force thousands of individual women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term or to obtain illegal procedures at risk to life and health. Working to protect the rights of women to preserve the integrity of their bodies is not "extreme," as Rosen would have it; it is what the American tradition of liberty and self-determination is all about.

PRISCILLA J. SMITH
Director, Domestic Legal Program
Center for Reproductive Rights
Counsel for Plaintiff LeRoy Carhart in
Stenberg v. Carhart
New York, New York

 

JEFFREY ROSEN REPLIES:

LIKE THE INTEREST GROUPS THEY represent, Kate Michelman and Priscilla J. Smith continue to conflate restrictions on late-term abortions, which most Americans support, with bans on early-term abortions, which most Americans oppose. I argued that Congress, the state legislatures, and the courts should not make the same error, and nothing in their letters calls this conclusion into question. Both of them, however, incorrectly characterize Justice Kennedy's dissent in the Stenberg case, where he reaffirmed his belief that, before viability, a state may deny "no woman the right to choose an abortion" and, after viability, it may place "no undue burden upon the right." For better or for worse. Roe won't be overturned any time soon.

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