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Unrelenting Tussle Over Abortion. Intense Activity at State Level By Father John Flynn

LCROME, JULY 18, 2010 (Zenit.org).- Abortion is very much in the headlines these days. Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan came in for criticism over her support for abortion during her recent U.S. Senate confirmation hearings, particularly for her role as a staff member in the Clinton administration in opposing laws to prohibit partial-birth abortion.

 

Meanwhile, the effects of the health care law passed by Congress continue to cause controversy. National Right to Life raised the alarm about abortions being funded under state insurance plans that are funded federally. The New Mexico plan listed abortion as a covered benefit, only to eliminate this from the list following an inquiry by the Associated Press, the news agency reported July 14. The report explained that federal law bars paying for abortion with government money, except in cases of rape or incest or to save the mother's life.

 

The bitter debate over the health care law last year in Congress was only put to an end when Democrats obtained sufficient votes to pass the bill following an undertaking by President Barack Obama to sign an executive order affirming restrictions on federal funding for abortions.

 

Subsequently the Department of Health and Human Services issued a statement that abortions will be excluded from such programs. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. Catholic bishops' Committee on Pro-Life Activities, welcomed the statement as averting an "alarming precedent" and called for permanent law to exclude abortion from all programs in a July 15 press release from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.

 

This news came on the heels of protests over the Obama administration's plans to allow abortions in military hospitals. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston wrote to a Senate committee considering the change, urging them to reject the proposal. Such a move would break with longstanding federal and military policies on government promotion of abortion, he said in a statement published June 29 by the U.S. episcopal conference.

 

Cardinal DiNardo said that the current military policy is in keeping with federal policy: "Other federal health facilities also may not be used for elective abortions, and many states have their own laws against use of public facilities for such abortions."

 

Clinic restrictions

 

Contention over abortion is no less intense at the state level. In Missouri, Governor Jay Nixon allowed a bill to become law that requires abortion clinics to offer ultrasound images and heartbeats of their fetuses, the Associated Press reported July 14.

 

Missouri law already prescribes that a woman be told of the physical and psychological risks of abortion at least 24 hours before undergoing an abortion. The additional measures approved will require consultation in person instead of over the phone, and also says that women should receive a description of the "anatomical and physiological characteristics of the unborn child," along with the offer of an ultrasound.

 

In 2008, about 7,400 abortions were performed in Missouri, according to sources cited by the Associated Press.

 

Nebraska is another state where new laws on abortion have just come into force, the Washington Times newspaper reported July 13. Beginning July 15, the Women's Health Protection Act requires women who are asking for an abortion to be examined for mental health issues, and they will also be asked if they are being pressured into having an abortion. In addition the law gives women the right to file lawsuits against abortion providers if they develop mental or physical problems as a result of the procedure.

 

A second law prohibits abortion after the 20th week of pregnancy, except to preserve the life of the mother.

 

At the last minute the first law was blocked by a federal judge, the Associated Press reported July 14. U.S. District Judge Laurie Smith Camp granted a request by Planned Parenthood for a preliminary injunction on the grounds that it could have made it impossible to get an abortion in the state.

 

Such legislation at the state level is increasingly common, the New York Times commented in a June 3 report. Just this year alone at least 11 states have passed laws regulating abortion. The article cited statistics from a pro-abortion organization, the Guttmacher Institute, on the legislative scene. Around 370 state bills regulating abortion were introduced in the first half of 2010. This compares about 350 in each of the previous five years. At least 24 of this year's bills have already passed

 

"Ninety percent of pro-life legislation happens at the states," Daniel S. McConchie, vice president for government affairs at Americans United for Life, told the New York Times.

 

Canada

 

Just north, in Canada, abortion has also hit the headlines. Earlier this year argument centered about whether the government should fund abortion in the aid given to developing nations. The federal authorities opted not to fund abortions. While the matter was being debated, Margaret Somerville, director of the Center for Medicine, Ethics and Law at McGill University wrote an opinion piece in the Ottawa Citizen newspaper on April 30 saying that abortion should not be funded on the basis of an ethical decision that valued human life.

 

Moreover, she pointed out that even so-called "safe" abortion involves risks and harms for women.

 

A short time later, the archbishop of Quebec, Cardinal Marc Ouellet, re-opened the abortion issue by calling for a re-examination of legislation, CBC news reported on May 26. Cardinal Ouellet, subsequently picked by the Pope to be prefect of the Congregation for Bishops, condemned abortion as a moral crime.

 

His statement was strongly criticized, but he said that while he was not making a judgment on individual women, at the same time he was calling on the government to help reduce the number of abortions.

 

"The debate on abortion is open," he said. "And we must not be afraid," the CBC report noted.

 

Crossing the Atlantic, to Spain, a new law has come into effect, allowing abortion without restrictions during the first 14 weeks of pregnancy, the Associated Press reported July 5. The law was approved by the Spanish parliament, controlled by the Socialist Party, earlier in 2010. It also allows 16 and 17-year-olds to obtain abortions without their parents' permission, even though they have to be informed of the fact.

 

The opposition Popular Party challenged the new abortion law in the country's highest tribunal, the Constitutional Court, but on July 14 it ruled that it would not suspend the new law while it hears an appeal against it, the Associated Press reported, July 15.

 

Pain

 

Abortion has also been in the public eye in England, where a report claimed that a human fetus cannot feel pain before the age of 24 weeks, the Times newspaper reported June 25.

 

The study, by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, was interpreted as a setback to efforts by pro-life forces to reduce the time limit on abortions. Pro-life campaigners have been trying to change the laws, reducing from 24 to 20 weeks the limit on when abortions may be performed.

 

Christina Odone, commenting on the news in the Telegraph newspaper on June 25, said "the implicit message is that pain should be our criteria for morality." But accepting such a claim would mean a radical change to our ethical system, she argued. In such a situation right and wrong become merely relative concepts based on a sliding scale of pain.

 

"Behavior that causes no pain, such as carrying on an illicit affair, becomes acceptable, as does giving a fatal injection to a comatose or senile patient: Neither the secret betrayal nor the premature death matters, when no one feels hurt," she observed. A very valid observation that draws attention to the fundamental importance of defending human life.

Once this principal is abandoned, then the consequences are immense.