Thursday, April 19, 2007

Second Post

A second post turns out to be a big event in the life of Puzzled with Aplomb, as it comes more than a year after the first post.

Distractions of the day are the bane of my existence, and yet they are often rewarding. Maintaining a blog promises to generate a lot of distraction, so I enter the blogosphere with trepidation.

Two items I wish to share in this post are quite different.

I'll start with a link to National Geographic's LiveCam at Año Nuevo State Reserve, just up the coast from Santa Cruz where I work. Legions of elephant seals lounge, soak, sun, sand, tustle, and procreate on the coast within view of Año Nuevo Island, where an abandoned lighthouse keeper's house has been taken over by sea lions. I recently visited this wonderful location with my son and his 2nd grad class. Here are some of the photos we took: Ano Nuevo, Land of Elephant Seals (Set).

Just this morning I discovered the LiveCam link in the May issue of NGM. I was told of the LiveCam's existence during the 2nd Grade field trip, but hadn't yet gotten around to tracking down the URL. Unfortunately, I have yet to enjoy it because the firewall at work denies me access to such things. I'll have to wait till I get home to view it.

The second item concerns yesterday's Supreme Court 5-4 decision upholding the Partial-Birth Abortion Act. I won't comment on the subject right now, but I wanted to digest Ruth Bader Ginsberg's dissenting opinion (q.v.), since the lengthy legalese of the full text dilutes the eloquent pith of her points. Here are excerpts from the full text of her dissenting opinon:

Seven years ago, in Stenberg v. Carhart, 530 U. S. 914 (2000), the Court invalidated a Nebraska statute criminalizing the performance of a medical procedure that, in the political arena, has been dubbed "partial-birth abortion."1 With fidelity to the Roe-Casey line of precedent, the Court held the Nebraska statute unconstitutional in part because it lacked the requisite protection for the preservation of a woman's health.

Today's decision is alarming. It refuses to take Casey and Stenberg seriously. It tolerates, indeed applauds, federal intervention to ban nationwide a procedure found necessary and proper in certain cases by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). It blurs the line, firmly drawn in Casey, between previability and postviability abortions. And, for the first time since Roe, the Court blesses a prohibition with no exception safeguarding a woman's health.

As Casey comprehended, at stake in cases challenging abortion restrictions is a woman's "control over her [own] destiny."

Their ability to realize their full potential, the Court recognized, is intimately connected to "their ability to control their reproductive lives." Thus, legal challenges to undue restrictions on abortion procedures do not seek to vindicate some generalized notion of privacy; rather, they center on a woman's autonomy to determine her life's course, and thus to enjoy equal citizenship stature.

In keeping with this comprehension of the right to reproductive choice, the Court has consistently required that laws regulating abortion, at any stage of pregnancy and in all cases, safeguard a woman's health. We have thus ruled that a State must avoid subjecting women to health risks not only where the pregnancy itself creates danger, but also where state regulation forces women to resort to less safe methods of abortion.Indeed, we have applied the rule that abortion regulation must safeguard a woman's health to the particular procedure at issue here--intact dilation and evacuation (D&E).

The Court offers flimsy and transparent justifications for upholding a nationwide ban on intact D&E sans any exception to safeguard a women's health. Today's ruling, the Court declares, advances "a premise central to [Casey's] conclusion"--i.e., the Government's "legitimate and substantial interest in preserving and promoting fetal life." The law saves not a single fetus from destruction, for it targets only a method of performing abortion.

Delivery of an intact, albeit nonviable, fetus warrants special condemnation, the Court maintains, because a fetus that is not dismembered resembles an infant. But so, too, does a fetus delivered intact after it is terminated by injection a day or two before the surgical evacuation, or a fetus delivered through medical induction or cesarean. Yet, the availability of those procedures--along with D&E by dismemberment--the Court says, saves the ban on intact D&E from a declaration of unconstitutionality. Never mind that the procedures deemed acceptable might put a woman's health at greater risk.

Ultimately, the Court admits that "moral concerns" are at work, concerns that could yield prohibitions on any abortion. By allowing such concerns to carry the day and case, overriding fundamental rights, the Court dishonors our precedent.

Revealing in this regard, the Court invokes an antiabortion shibboleth for which it concededly has no reliable evidence: Women who have abortions come to regret their choices, and consequently suffer from "[s]evere depression and loss of esteem." Because of women's fragile emotional state and because of the "bond of love the mother has for her child," the Court worries, doctors may withhold information about the nature of the intact D&E procedure. The solution the Court approves, then, is not to require doctors to inform women, accurately and adequately, of the different procedures and their attendant risks. Instead, the Court deprives women of the right to make an autonomous choice, even at the expense of their safety.

This way of thinking reflects ancient notions about women's place in the family and under the Constitution--ideas that have long since been discredited.

The Court's hostility to the right Roe and Casey secured is not concealed. Throughout, the opinion refers to obstetrician-gynecologists and surgeons who perform abortions not by the titles of their medical specialties, but by the pejorative label "abortion doctor." A fetus is described as an "unborn child," and as a "baby," and the reasoned medical judgments of highly trained doctors are dismissed as "preferences" motivated by "mere convenience."

In sum, the notion that the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act furthers any legitimate governmental interest is, quite simply, irrational. The Court's defense of the statute provides no saving explanation. In candor, the Act, and the Court's defense of it, cannot be understood as anything other than an effort to chip away at a right declared again and again by this Court--and with increasing comprehension of its centrality to women's lives.

I'm afraid that the Virginia Tech story is distracting the country from a lot of important events that will have long-term effects on our lives, and deserve a whole lot more of our attention. This Supreme Court decision is just one of many.

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