Goodness, is it election time already?
Must be, because anti-abortion zealots in Washington are crusading again to ban medically necessary late-term abortions.
Since the early 1990s, the opponents of a woman's right to choose have regularly trotted out a proposal to ban so-called "par- tial-birth abortions" just in time to register the votes of members of Congress before they face re-election.
The fight has never really been about the gory procedure abortion foes so delight in describing, since they know it is rarely used and is regularly defended by physicians as a necessary protection for the life and health of mothers whose pregnancies go awry.
Rather, foes of abortion rights open up the "partial-birth" debate to try to paint elected officials who support a woman's right to choose in a bad light prior to key elections. Anti-choice activists provoke fights on issues of this sort because they could never win a debate on what they really want: a full ban on all abortions that would prevent women from making even the most basic decisions about what to do with their bodies.
During the Clinton years, bans passed the House and the Senate. But a sufficient number of senators voted to sustain presidential vetoes.
Now that George W. Bush, an anti-choice zealot, occupies the White House, however, there is no defense against the extremists. This week, the Senate voted 64-34 for the ban, echoing a 281-142 House vote. And Bush will sign the measure. (To their credit, both of Wisconsin's U.S. senators, Russ Feingold, D-Middleton, and Herb Kohl, D-Milwaukee, voted against the ban.)
Political chicanery has finally triumphed over medical common sense and women's health. As U.S. Sen. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., says, "This is indeed a historic day, because for the first time in history Congress is banning a medical procedure that is considered medically necessary by physicians."
But don't think this is a victory for the foes of choice. The courts have already rejected bans of this sort as assaults on the constitutional rights of women, and they will again.
As importantly, when Bush signs this measure, he will remind voters of his militant opposition to women's rights. In so doing, he will put the issue of choice front-and-center for the 2004 presidential race.
Foes of choice, who have played politics with this issue for years, may find that they have made a big mistake. That's because Bush could face a challenger who is not afraid to confront his false premises.
Former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean, a front-runner for the Democratic presidential nomination, responded to the Senate vote by declaring, "As a physician, I am outraged that the Senate has decided it is qualified to practice medicine. There is no such thing as 'partial birth abortion' in medical literature. But there are times when a doctor is called upon to perform a late-term abortion to save a woman's life or protect her from serious injury. Today the Senate took a step toward making it a crime for a doctor to perform such medically necessary procedures. This bill will chill the practice of medicine and endanger the lives of countless women. This kind of legislation serves the sole purpose of chipping away women's constitutionally protected reproductive rights and overturning Roe v. Wade."
By playing fast and loose with the facts and sticking always to the margins of the abortion debate, Bush and his allies have tried to turn this issue to their advantage politically. But, if the president faces Howard Dean next year, the Bush team just could find that the issue has turned against him.
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