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Jewish World Review March 27, 2000/20 Adar II, 5760

Don Feder

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Abortion flip-floppers owe us an explanation -- MUCH HAS BEEN WRITTEN about Vice President Al Gore's stunning acrobatic maneuvers on abortion. But a more fundamental matter is largely overlooked -- that politicians can execute a complete about-face on this life-and-death issue and not be called to account.

That Gore has undergone a radical transformation here, paralleling the course of his national ambitions, is undeniable.

As a House member in the early '80s, he was essentially pro-life. According to the National Right to Life Committee, in his 8 years in the House, Gore voted against abortion 84 percent of the time.

The veep's campaign would have us believe that, after an agonizing reappraisal, he changed his mind on public funding of abortion but is otherwise consistent. Thus, Gore cliams he's always believed "very strongly that a woman must have a right to choose."

If so, he once had an odd way of showing it.

In a 1983 letter, Gore assured a constituent that, regarding abortion, he shared her "belief that innocent human life must be protected, and I have an open mind on how to further this goal."

The pro-choice champion voted for a 1984 amendment defining "unborn children from the moment of conception" as "persons" entitled to the full protection of federal law. In a 1986 interview, Gore referred to abortion as "the taking of what is arguably human life."

By then, he was making the transition from representing a socially conservative state to running for national office. In 1988, Gore sought the presidential nomination of a party controlled by those who believe in magic -- when you want it, it's a child; when you don't, it's the products of conception.

Conveniently, Gore then discovered that he had always been pro-choice, but his former opposition to federal funding had obscured that reality.

The vice president is far from the only politician to turn coat or tail. As Arkansas governor in the mid-'80s, Clinton was signing pro-life declarations. As a House member, Republican Jim Courter was resolutely pro-life. As a candidate for New Jersey governor in 1989, he had a change of fetal heartbeat geared to electoral advantage.

Politicians who morph on abortion are never asked why.

"Now, Vice President Gore, in 1984, you thought the fetus was a 'person' and 'innocent human life.' By 1988, you were convinced that the unborn child is a nonentity. What did you learn in the interim?

"Were you laboring under a misconception? Did you once believe that the progeny of two people is itself human, but (after a careful study of embryo biology) conclude that it is, as feminists would have it, a collection of cells, a parasite?"

How can that be, when everything we've learned about fetal development in the past two decades leads to the opposite conclusion?

Dr. Watson Bowes, professor emeritus of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of North Carolina, notes that 20 years ago ultrasound was primitive. Today, says Bowes, we have the ability "to watch the fetus develop and grow," to actually see fetal fingernails. These are "unmistakable images of a little child bouncing around."

"On a more scientific level," Bowes observes, "in vitro fertilization convincingly demonstrates that this is a human being from the moment a single cell divides in two."

Further confirmation comes from fetal surgery. Today, surgeons can operate on an unborn child in the 22nd week to forestall spina bifida and a host of other conditions. Surgery on nonentities?

Of course, Gore and other panderers might argue that the status of the fetus is irrelevant. It could be anything from a human being to a kumquat; all that matters is a woman's choice.

The question then becomes: "How has your understanding of the rights concept evolved from the days when you believed that the unborn child's right to live superseded the woman's right to choose to destroy it?"

Perhaps we're so accustomed to politicians shamelessly dissimulating and switching sides with no more than a pro-forma explanation that it ceases to matter.

After all, in a debate where much of the nation strenuously avoids any consideration of the objects of abortion, why should we care that a politician abandons those he once called human for the lofty goal of attracting votes?

JWR contributing columnist Don Feder's latest book is Who's Afraid of the Religious Right. Comment on his column by clicking here.


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© 2000, Creators Syndicate