Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Supreme Court Bans Partial Birth Abortion in Landmark Decision

In what has been quickly hailed as the most significant Supreme Court Decision on abortion since Row vs. Wade, second trimester partial birth abortion was declared illegal in a 5 to 4 decision by the Supreme Court today. Reaction to the decision was swift on both sides with the pro-choice groups picketing the Supreme Court building today. President Bush was quick to applaud the decision.

The decision itself described this abortion procedure as both gruesome and unnecessary. In this procedure, labor is induced and when the child is partially born it is then killed. Some doctors were quick to suggest that this will make abortion more dangerous for women because some claim this is the safest second trimester procedure. Others say that it is completely unnecessary since there are other safe means to abort a fetus.

What is especially remarkable about this decision is no exception is made to the ban even if the life of the mother is in danger.

It will be remembered that President Bush moved swiftly to sign the original bill into law which had passed Congress in Nov. 2003. The bill was proposed by Sen. Rick Santorum and others in 2003, and it then underwent challenge after challenge until the case came before the Supreme Court three years.

You can read the story here----

Debate has of course begun on whether this will embolden challenges to other radical abortion procedures in individual states. Perhaps most fundamentally this decision reflects a belief that a woman should not be allowed to do whatever she pleases with the child in her womb. At a minimum this decision signals a belief that some forms of abortion are inhumane and should not be legal.

For those of us who are pro-life this is an important day in a long struggle, but in reality it is only a small victory for the life of unborn children since abortions can be performed in various other ways.


Jeff said...

Here's what John Edwards had to say about it:

"I could not disagree more strongly with today's Supreme Court decision. The ban upheld by the Court is an ill-considered and sweeping prohibition that does not even take account for serious threats to the health of individual women. This hard right turn is a stark reminder of why Democrats cannot afford to lose the 2008 election. Too much is at stake - starting with, as the Court made all too clear today, a woman's right to choose."

Interesting. I wonder what kind of justices he would appoint to the Supreme Court?

Ben Witherington said...


John and I disagree on this one for sure.


Kay Lady said...

As a woman, I have mixed emotions about the Supreme Court's decision. I agree with the decision, and I am pleased to see that most of the Justices demonstrated their Humanity and their "Humane-ity" by voting as they did.
My difficulties are two. First, this decision does not mean victory - it means a continuation of a long, very expensive legal battle from which neither side can ever emerge victorious. However, having entered the legal battlefield, we are obligated to continue - so funds perhaps better spent educating women about the reality that abortion is murder and about alternatives to it are perpetually bound to and unavoidably but ultimately wasted in this struggle.
Secondly, I am concerned that those who oppose abortion will be fooled into complacency by an illusory victory.
Can a battle with the "World" ever be won on the "World's" terms?

Ben Witherington said...


I quite agree with you, but I do think from a psychological point of view this victory is important.


Ben W.

Jeff said...

Justice Scalia has said that the house of abortion will have to be dismantled doorframe by doorframe.

This decision was just another doorframe.

Sandalstraps said...

That there is no exception for situations in which the mother's life is in danger, to my way of thinking, keeps this from being truly pro-life, because one life (the unborn) is protected at the expense of another (the born).

I know that a single proof-text does not solve any complex moral issue - and abortion is nothing if it isn't a complex moral issue - but, if we take Exodus 21:22-23 (the ony verse that directly applies to the status of an unborn child) seriously then we have to say that the weight of the issue is on the side of the mother, not the child.

That by no means makes abortions of convenience morally permissible, but it does mean that in the tragic situation where we have to choose between saving the mother or saving the child, we should side with the mother. That this ruling chooses the unborn child over the mother should be deeply disturbing to those of us who cherish all human life, and believe that life doesn't end at birth.

MyBodyMyChoice said...

It's great to know that as a woman, if I am 13 weeks pregnant (and 13 weeks is hardly "late term"), and my DOCTOR says that I need a dilation and extraction abortion (D&E is the preferred medical term--"Partial Birth" is propaganda pablum fed to religious zealots) and that I need this medical procedure to save my life, it's now illegal. Thank you, Supreme Court, for making me less of a citizen yesterday. How much longer will I have the right to do other things, like voting? And driving?

I'll put this in language that maybe some right-wingers can understand: You can have my uterus when you pry it out of my cold dead hands.

Steve Heyduck said...

The piece in the Waco Trib this morning regarding this decision pointed out that of the over 1 million abortions performed each year, approximately 2,200 were by this procedure.

I am reminded of Mensch and Freeman's The Politics of Virtue: Is Abortion Debatable? (1993, Duke University Press), which shows that the Court's action(s) on abortion have had the effect of lessening the social momentum of opponents on the issue working together to reduce the number of abortions performed.

Unknown said...

Although this is an important win in the abortion battle, I still find it remarkable that 1/3 of my generation is not alive today because of abortion, and that a woman's womb is the most dangerous place for a baby in the US.

Alan S. said...

The WSJ review of the decision states that the Partial Birth Abortion Act does include an exemption for when the mother's life is endangered.


Ben Witherington said...

Dear MybodyMyChioce:

I am just wondering--- why would you assume that you have an inalienable right to do as you please with your body when it comes to interpersonal behavior? I certainly don't have any such right. For example, let's suppose I am a Siamese twin joined from birth to my sibling. I certainly have no right to do as I please with my twin, even though she is even more a part of my body and dependent on me than a fetus would be, at least in late term. In fact we are more dependent outside of the uterus than a child is on its mother.

2) While we are at it-- why would you simply assume that your body simply belongs to you? You did not create your body, you came through your parents. At a minimum you must realize that the embodied gift of life to you is just that-- a gift. It is not something you earned, deserved, or created.

3) If you are religious we could also talk about the fact that you are a child of God and belong to God as well. Again, this means you do not simply belong to yourself, nor should you assume you are free to do as you please with your body when it comes to the issue of ethical interpersonal behavior.

I would be happy to hear your response to these points.


Neil said...

Sandalstraps referenced Exodus 21 - click the link for a great overview of an often misunderstood passage (it is actually a pro-life verse, even though some translations are used by pro-choicers).

For the record, the PBA ban permits exceptions for the life of the woman. I don't know of a single pro-lifer who argues against those exceptions.

The reasoning by mybodymychoice makes the same misstep that nearly all pro-choice arguments do: It ignore that another human life is at stake.

Ken Carl said...

Dear Mybodymychoice:
Your basic assumtions are flawed. First of all, a child growing within you is not your body, it is the body of another individual. It is about time the the court recognizes that the unborn child needs protection from those who would snuff out their life without remorse or consideration.

Second, there are a lot of things that you CANNOT do with your body, it is not your choice. For example, you cannot inject illegal drugs into your body. It is against the law and it is not your choice. You cannot legally put a gun to your head and kill yourself, it is illegal and it is not your choice. You cannot sell your kidney because you need money, it is illegal and not your choice. The fact that it is your body involved does not necessarily make it your choice.

Finally, the percentage of abortions that are performed because the life of the mother are so small that the argument is ridiculously overblown. Most all abortions are acts of convenience. If a person really wanted to have dominion over their body, they would practice responsible birth control before they have sex!!!

Matt said...

This supreme court decision made my vote for W in the last election well worth it.

Kay Lady said...

ken carl's response to MybodyMychoice brings to my mind one of the faulty assumptions of the "so-called" pro-choice proponents - because of a faulty assumption on ken carl's part. He points out that one "can't" inject illegal drugs into one's body, and one "can't" put a gun to one's head and pull the trigger because these things are against the law. In fact, one can do those things even though they are against the law. However, there are consequences to doing so. It is because those consequences are very negative that they are against the law.
The faulty reasoning on the part of the "pro-choice" proponents is that one should have the "right" to choose to end the life of an innocent bystander without consequences.
Now, if the woman who has an abortion and the "doctor" who performs it are willing to go to prison for committing murder.... But - abortion is the only form of murder in which the value of the victim is set by the murderers

James Garth said...

Hmm.. reminds me of that classic Simpsons episode where Kang the alien impersonates Bob Dole at a pep rally:

Kang: "Abortions for all!"
[crowd boos]
"Very well, no abortions for anyone!"
[crowd boos]
"Hmm... Abortions for some, miniature American flags for others!"
[crowd cheers and waves miniature flags]

Seriously though, this Supreme Court decision is indeed a step in the right direction (no pun intended).

I believe a very significant percentage of those who would lean towards the 'pro-life' end of the spectrum would be satisfied if (1) abortion procedures were made illegal with exceptions provided for cases of maternal life, rape and incest, and (2) if limitations were imposed on the method of abortion for these exceptions, ie. no inhumane or late-term (second and third trimester) procedures.

Certainly, this would be a somewhat utilitarian compromise, but nonetheless such a framework would (i) preserve the lives of the overwhelming majority of unborn fetuses that are currently being aborted, (ii) uphold the dignity of the mother in situations that lie beyond her control, and (iii) minimize suffering to all in the rare cases that such procedures are identified as being necessary.
And as an "end-game" goal for the pro-life movement, this kind of arrangement seems to me to be a sensible objective that is more achievable than the goal of complete prohibition.

Sandalstraps said...


Exodus 21:22-23 is neither a pro-life nor a pro-choice verse. On its face it has nothing to with abortion. It is, however, concerned with the status of an unborn child. And it clearly avoids giving an unborn child anything resembling "personhood."

In ancient Jewish law no payment could be given for the taking of human life. The penalty for killing a human being was always death. This deviated from the surrounding cultures of the ancient Near East, in which a wealthy person could make a payment of restitution for murder, a situation which favored the rich (who, in the event of a killing, could pay a fine and thus avoid execution) over the poor (who could not). This created essentially separate systems of justice, one for the rich and one for the poor (still a live issue!).

Ancient Israel found that unacceptable, and so in their laws there is no fine for killing a person. The payment for life is life. If you kill another person, you die. No exceptions for the rich.

A such, if an unborn child were considered a person, a fully human life, there would be no fine for killing it. There would be only the penalty of death. But, in this case, when two me are fighting, and in the course of their fight they injure a pregnant woman and kill the child in the womb, if there is no damage to the mother the penalty is a fine. If, however, there is damage to the mother, the penalty is death. The life of the mother and the life of the unborn child are not equal in the eyes of this law.

This does not make abortion morally permissible, both because:

1. There is a penalty for killing the child, and

2. Because the situation here is not analogous to abortion.

There are principles that can be derrived from this that speak powerfully against the practice of abortion. However, someone who takes this verse seriously, as a kind of revelation of the concerns of God, cannot conclude that the life of an unborn child is of equal value to the life of a mother. As such, in the tragic case in which you have to choose between the two, you should side with the mother.

As for the issue of translation of this verse, it begins to get complicated when it is translated into Greek in the Septuagint. In that translation there is a move to make the verse speak more strongly about the unborn child. The details of that move are not worth getting into here, as my comment has already dragged on.

Tortfeasor said...

There IS a life exception to the Partial Birth Abortion Act.

There is not a "health" exception, and for good reason: it is gigantic loophole through which a doctor can justify the procedure for any reason whatsoever.

As an aside, the candidates' reactions to the decision leave NO DOUBT where they stand on the abortion issue.