Clicking on banner ads enables JWR to constantly improve
Jewish World Review March 23, 2004 / 1 Nissan, 5764

Jonathan Turley

JWR's Pundits
World Editorial
Cartoon Showcase

Mallard Fillmore

Michael Barone
Mona Charen
Linda Chavez
Ann Coulter
Greg Crosby
Larry Elder
Don Feder
Suzanne Fields
James Glassman
Paul Greenberg
Bob Greene
Betsy Hart
Nat Hentoff
David Horowitz
Marianne Jennings
Michael Kelly
Mort Kondracke
Ch. Krauthammer
Lawrence Kudlow
Dr. Laura
John Leo
Michelle Malkin
Jackie Mason
Chris Matthews
Michael Medved
Kathleen Parker
Wes Pruden
Sam Schulman
Amity Shlaes
Roger Simon
Tony Snow
Thomas Sowell
Cal Thomas
Jonathan S. Tobin
Ben Wattenberg
George Will
Bruce Williams
Walter Williams
Mort Zuckerman

Consumer Reports

When ‘choice’ becomes tyranny | There was a time when the abortion debate focused on the right of a woman to choose whether to end her pregnancy without the threat of criminal penalties or government harassment. How far this debate has moved from there was evident in a courthouse in Salt Lake City last week.

Melissa Ann Rowland stands accused of refusing to have a caesarian section to save the lives of twins she was carrying. According to doctors and nurses at a hospital there, Rowland refused the C-section because of the scar that would result and allegedly stated she would rather "lose one of the babies than be cut like that." Rowland has now been charged with murder after one baby was born stillborn and the other barely survived.

The president of the National Organization for Women, Kim Gandy, proclaimed that she was "aghast" that Rowland had been charged criminally and insisted that charges would never have been brought if Rowland were a "soccer mom," rather than a drug user with a checkered past. Other groups have called the charges an attack on motherhood or a conspiracy of anti-abortion advocates.

For my part as a pro-choice law professor, the only thing more shocking than the alleged indifference shown to these babies is the equal indifference shown by pro-choice groups in blindly embracing this cause.

According to the criminal complaint, starting on Dec. 25, 2003, doctors and nurses advised Rowland repeatedly that the twins were in danger. Doctors reportedly urged Rowland to have a C-section immediately because the twins were experiencing fetal heart problems and were developing poorly and she had dangerously low amniotic fluid. The doctors told her repeatedly that without a C-section the babies faced severe harm or death. Hospital staff reported she appeared indifferent to the fate of the babies.

On Jan. 13, Rowland showed up at a hospital in labor. Emergency room doctors and nurses reportedly attempted to persuade Rowland to have an emergency C-section, but, accordingly to the criminal complaint, she "was uncooperative and continually insisted on going outside for a smoke." After she finally yielded to their demands, a C-section was performed, but it was too late. One baby died and the other twin required stimulation, oxygen, intravenous support and antibiotics to survive. Both Rowland and the surviving twin tested positive for cocaine. The medical examiner's office determined that if Rowland had had the surgery when the doctors originally urged her to, "the baby would have survived."

Donate to JWR

Rowland has a prior record of abuse. Four years ago, she pleaded guilty to simple assault, reckless endangerment and endangering the welfare of her daughter, then 2. Rowland was seen beating the girl in a store after the child grabbed and ate a candy bar. Rowland's abuse was so shocking that roughly two dozen customers and store employees formed a human chain around her car to prevent her from leaving with the girl.

The willingness of pro-choice groups to embrace Rowland reflects their extreme view of abortion as an absolute right in our constitutional system. But in our system, there are no absolute rights; our constitution is based on a balancing of interests.

Even the oldest and most fundamental rights like free speech or religion must yield in some cases to compelling state interests.

Yet, when it comes to reproductive rights, NOW and other groups reject even the most basic limitations — leaving reproductive rights so sacrosanct that even the most depraved acts by a mother cannot limit her "right to choose."

Though authorities' decision to charge her with first-degree murder (rather than manslaughter) seems excessive, I see no reason why Rowland should not be charged criminally. These twins were not immature fetuses at an early stage of development but were at full term and completely viable outside the womb, yet she knowingly withheld a common, safe surgical procedure while the life drained out of them.

No one would disagree that, if they had been delivered, Rowland could be charged criminally for any physical abuse. However, NOW is insisting that the babies had no rights until delivery, and that a mother can feed them cocaine, refuse pleas to save them and potentially cause the death of two fully developed babies at any time until birth — a position that has little legal support and even less basis in morality.

The decision of NOW and other groups to defend Rowland is only the latest evidence of how far these organizations have moved to the extreme. This month, NOW, the ACLU and Planned Parenthood opposed a parental notice law in Florida as a threat to the right to abortion — even though most pro-choice voters support parental notice. Lynn Paltrow, executive director of the National Advocates for Pregnant Women, has declared the charges against Rowland an "assault on motherhood." But the case is no more an assault on motherhood than an embezzlement case is an assault against capitalism.

Even referring to "the twins" or the "babies" has drawn the ire of these groups. Indeed, Paltrow has vehemently objected to any effort "to personify the fetus."

Rowland deserves a trial and a chance to prove that the allegations against her are false. This includes a possible defense of insanity, which has been alluded to by these groups.

But let's be clear: What Rowland is accused of doing is not "bad timing," as stated by NOW's Gandy. If proven, it is an act of unspeakable indifference to the lives of two babies. NOW's Pavlovian response to this case has nothing to do with choice. It is about choice without consequences; a notion of absolute autonomy that borders on individual tyranny.

Every weekday publishes what many in Washington and the media consider "must reading." Sign up for the daily JWR update. It's free. Just click here.

JWR contributorJonathan Turley is a professor of law at George Washington Law School and a criminal defense attorney. Click here to visit his website. Comment by clicking here.

03/18/04: Valued bond between client, lawyer eroding
03/12/04: When Silence Isn't Golden: Martha Stewart's failure to testify holds a lesson for other celebrity defendants
03/09/04: Non-profits' executives avoid scrutiny, valid reforms
02/12/04: Reparations cause is coming up empty: Potential lawsuits destined to remain meritless in courts
02/03/04: Senate powder is the least of Congress' security concerns
01/29/04: Case of the Missing Evidence: Facts are often withheld from juries, which can lead to ill-informed verdicts
12/31/03: Celebrity is often its own best defense
12/27/03: U.S. soldiers lack best protective gear
12/17/03: Going for the gold in a competition of the corrupt
11/25/03: Will Malvo jurors spare life of young suspect?
11/11/03: The Black Tax: Of charlatans, crooks and victims and the reparations scam
11/04/03: Sniper case lacks appeal, public lessons of other cases
10/02/03: Is a soldier's life worth more than $650?
08/26/03: One justice wields too much power on today's Supreme Court. It's time to make the top bench much bigger
08/11/03: Don't let jobs grow on family trees
06/26/03: A Ruling That Only Goldilocks Could Love; We still don't know how much weight to give race in college admissions
06/24/03: 'Educating' Congress at the hands of lobbyists
06/12/03: Crooked arm of the law
06/10/03: Defense on lay-away
05/23/03: Innocence doesn't pay, either
05/15/03: A see-no-evil parole system
05/08/03: An American Gulag?
05/01/03: CUNY Law gives grads a cynical parting gift
04/22/03: Congress Must Send Spammers a Message
04/16/03: End Apartheid in the State Prisons
04/07/03: NBC's sacking of Peter Arnett over a critical analysis plays well in Baghdad
03/07/03: Rights on the Rack: Alleged torture in terror war imperils U.S. standards of humanity
02/25/03: How democracy could clear our snowy streets
02/11/03: Sanity and Justice Slipping Away
01/28/03: Quit horsing around, senator
01/14/03: Public Payroll: a Family Affair; Nepotism in Washington poses a threat to institutional integrity
01/09/03: DARPA and democracy
12/24/02: The 13th juror
12/19/02: Back to the admissions morass
12/10/02: Pro-Choice at Expense of Free Speech; NOW case against abortion protester may backfire
12/02/02: A cruel bait and switch for vets
11/15/02: Junk justice
11/07/02: OUR second-class soldiers
10/30/02: 'Quirin' revisited: The dark history of a military tribunal
10/22/02: Un-American Arrests: Mass detainments of the innocent may be the ultimate form of crowd control, but the tactic is unconstitutional
10/16/02: Reverse pawn shops? Broke state officials across the country have been looking for businesses to buy their assets at a fraction of their worth to pay for budget shortfalls
10/08/02: A legal tattoo hullabaloo
10/02/02: Gagged justice sets dangerous precedent
09/25/02: The Great Salmon Rose Caper
09/17/02: Reparations: A Scam Cloaked in Racial Pain
09/12/02: This country's hidden strength
09/04/02: 1st Amendment protects even the ugliest among us
08/28/02: A secret court goes public
08/20/02: I defended Ashcroft during his nomination; he's become a constitutional menace
08/07/02: San Francisco embracing states-rights
07/31/02: Who needs Jenny Craig when you can have Johnnie Cochran?
07/22/02: The meaning of justice and the madness of Zacarias Moussauoi
07/16/02: The President vs. the Presidency
07/08/02: How one woman's whims dictates the rights of millions
07/02/02: Just say 'no' to extracurricular activities
06/24/02: Missing Ted Bundy
06/10/02: A comedy of eros06/14/02: 05/31/02: Beyond the 'reformed FBI' hype
05/23/02: Do we really need a Federal Marriage Amendment?
05/19/02: No "battlefield detainee" should leave home without a U.S. birth certificate
05/10/02: The perfect constitutional storm
04/26/02: 'Slave of Allah' wounds justice
04/12/02: The importance of being nameless
04/05/02: The adjusted value of justice
03/18/02: How Clinton got off: A law professor's take
03/11/02: Profiling and the terrorist lottery
03/05/02: Yes, Sharpton, there was a failure of justice
02/28/02: The Lay of the land
02/14/02: Living in constitutional denial
02/05/02: Legal Lesson for Afghanistan: War's Not a Slip-and-Fall Case
01/25/02: Sever "Jihad Johnny"'s ties to his homeland
01/21/02: "Out of sight, out of mind," but they're still prisoners
01/14/02: Your papers, please!
01/07/02: Prescription for disaster
12/18/01: Madison and the Mujahedeen
12/07/01: In the U.S., espionage crime is easy to understand but difficult to prove
11/19/01: What type of 'creature' would defend bin Laden?
11/19/01: Could bin Laden be acquitted in a trial?
10/28/01: The ultimate sign of the different times in which we are living
10/25/01: Al-Qaida produces killers, not thinkers
09/28/01: The Boxer rebellion and the war against terrorism
08/31/01: Bring back the silent Condit
08/27/01: Working out the body politic

© 2003, Jonathan Turley