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Reality Check

Reality Check

Want a reality check on the implications of the Supreme Court verdict in Gonzales v. Carhart? Throwing out thirty years of legal precedent, the court declared that Congress has an interest in preserving fetal life over and above any implications for women's health. (No wonder Katha Pollitt's "upset." Her latest column Regrets Only is dead-right.) Which women will feel the impact? All women who ever become pregnant and want to make decisions for themselves. As Lynn Paltrow, of National Pregnant Women's Advocates told RadioNation 4/21/07, this is a decision that has potential to affect every woman who chooses to give birth at home, employ a midwife, have -- or not have -- a c-section. The implications for women's rights are devastating, not only for women who choose to abort but also for those who want to have choices as they carry their pregnancies to term.

Then there is the doctor's perspective. During the radio program, one ob-gyn called in from Seattle. She dared not use her name. Here's the transcript of that call: RadioNation: How will this decision affect you? Ob-gyn: The decision to perform 2nd term abortions was not easy for me. It's not an easy procedure to do, but I do it out of compassion for fellow human beings. How this will affect me is I will have to watch women who are in dire need of this procedure go without or go with much riskier procedures which include inducing labor in someone their 2nd trimester, or actual abdominal surgery.

RN: Who is your typical patient for this kind of procedure? Ob-gyn: Many of the women I've treated in the past with this sort of surgery are women who are of limited means, or limited understanding and that most often causes delays. Those are most of the kind of women who need these kind of procedures and they are the very same [kind of] women who cannot afford to raise a child or to carry a fetus to term. [In addition,] many are women who have very severe disabilities...

RN: Is there one client who sticks in your mind tonight, who, if she came to tonight you'd have to turn away or would you take the risk of prosecution?

Ob-gyn: I would not. Unfortunately, I'm not that brave. As to who stands out in my mind, there was a 14 year-old girl who was born with a severe physical handicap. She was born with very brittle bones and had suffered many fractures (in utero and throughout her life.) She was in a wheel chair. Her body was very malformed and the pregnancy itself was a risk for her having fractures. Also, hers was a disease that was very easily inherited by her child -- the fetus was already diagnosed with it. It makes for a very difficult life with many, many, many medical complications. Being a 14 year old girl who was very, very physically handicapped. It makes you wonder how she got pregnant in the first place — whether it was in fact consensual.

RN: That's the kind of person Justice Kennedy claims to be protecting from self-harm, by banning access to a legal abortion?

Ob-gyn: When I heard the decision, my head almost exploded.

LF: Thanks for calling.

Ob-gyn: Thanks for talking about it. No body else seems to be talking about it.

LF: The decision is huge and we'll keep talking about it.

For more on Paltrow's work and analysis of activism in the states to defend abortion rights, check out Laura Flanders's new book, Blue Grit:True Democrats Take Back Politics from the Politicians (The Penguin Press, April, 2007.)

© 2007 The Nation

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