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Jewish World Review Oct. 4, 2000/ 5 Tishrei, 5760

Kathleen Parker

Kathleen Parker
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Consumer Reports

Election-year reality check:
Abortion is here to stay --
ABORTION, remember?

It was supposed to dominate the election, according to pundit predictions back in January. And then . . . silence. Since the primary elections, abortion talk has been as scarce as a Monica sighting.

Pro-life Republicans have been uncharacteristically quiet, while Democrats remain smug in their anything-goes corner. Suddenly, just weeks before the election (coincidentally nine months later, maternity-ward veterans can't help noting), the A-word is back in all its vainglorious ambiguity. Renewed interest, or the final gasps of a moot point?

At one end of the spectrum, discussion centers on giving American women access to the so-called morning-after RU-486 pill, which causes spontaneous abortion of a fertilized embryo in the first seven weeks of pregnancy. The Food and Drug Administration approved use of the pill Thursday, thus ending a 12-year stalemate during which politicians tried to nail down the exact moment life begins.

At the other, legislators grappled with a bizarre bill in the U.S. House of Representatives clarifying for idiots that a breathing, moving newborn with a beating heart is, in fact, a human being. The "Born-Alive Infants Protection Act" passed 380-15 and would resolve finally the prickly question of whether an unwanted baby can be destroyed post-"birth," should an abortion fail. The bill is not expected to go to the Senate before legislators adjourn and, therefore, will die a natural death.

Those who voted against the legislation noted that the bill was unnecessary -- it's against the law to kill people, and viable babies out of the womb already are considered people -- and accused the bill's authors of seeking to make pro-choice legislators look bad. They're probably correct, though one can imagine that babies intended for the Great Vacuum Beyond are grateful, nonetheless. Hey, one less thing.

And so here we are, stuck somewhere between conception and viability, grappling with an issue of which most Americans are sick and even Republicans seem weary. What seems understood at this point is that approval of the RU-486 pill was overdue for reasons that the facts make clear and that abortion is here to say -- even if the Republicans take the White House.

In capsule, the RU-486 pills are effective (92 percent to 95 percent effective in the first seven weeks) and safer than surgical abortions, which kill 80,000 women per year throughout the world. Even though 5 percent to 10 percent of women still require surgical abortion after administration of the pill, the more palatable consequence is that most abortions will occur earlier, thus reducing the likelihood of our needing to entertain laws with names such as "Born-Alive Infant Protection."

Because more doctors can prescribe the pills and supervise the results, RU-486 makes birth control available to more women for whom "choice" is most often something that happens on the cereal aisle. According to the National Abortion Federation, 84 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion provider. Abortion is here to stay, meanwhile, because no one's going to touch it. Not Al Gore, certainly. He'll perform one himself if that's what it takes to get him elected. But neither is George W. Bush, whose slogan should be: "Read My Smirk." Dubya's done everything but put a "Pro-choice" sticker on his limo.

The smirk says: Bush has two daughters, and no Yale Daddy worth his frat paddle is going to make his baby have a baby if she doesn't want to. He has said he supports abortion in cases of rape or incest, thus separating himself from the rigid hard-right. He promised not to make abortion a litmus test for Supreme Court appointments.

Abortion has been absent these many months because the debate, implicit in the unspoken, is over.

JWR contributor Kathleen Parker can be reached by clicking here.


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11/23/99: Pendulum swings back toward discipline, responsibility
11/18/99: Put the babies first in this mighty mess
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09/23/99: The great blurring of need and want
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09/16/99: Commentary from kids sheds no light on day-care debate
09/14/99: Fathers' group seeks to right inequities
09/09/99: Son now has a license to grow up
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06/14/99: Calling for a cease-fire in the gender war
06/10/99: We owe children an apology

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