Jewish World Review Nov. 10, 2004 / 26 Mar-Cheshvan, 5765

Zev Chafets

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Consumer Reports

Pro-choicers face reality of ultrasound pix | A few weeks ago, I went to lunch at a diner in Mount Vernon with Rick Marino, a moral philosopher disguised as a home renovation contractor.

The subject turned to pregnancy and ultrasound. A decade ago, when I was having my last crop of kids, the pictures came out fuzzy. The doctor would point - "These are the fingers" or "There is the head" - and I'd nod. In truth, I couldn't make much of the blurry images.

Today's ultrasound photos come in 3-D and color. At 18 weeks you can easily discern fingers and facial features. At seven months, you have a fully recognizable human baby. It's so clear that even a man can see it.

For a couple of hundred bucks a pregnant woman can go to the mall nowadays and have a picture taken of her baby. Or even a video with a musical soundtrack.

Rick and I were marveling over this when we were interrupted by the waitress. "You guys talking about ultrasounds?" she asked. At first I missed the edge in her voice.

"Amazing, aren't they?" I asked.

"They're going to be used against women," the waitress snapped. She was obviously ready to sacrifice a tip to make a point.

She was right, of course. Ultrasound images are already changing the perception of abortion. Once, the idea of fetal humanity was a matter of religious conviction. Now, it is an observable fact. If you don't believe me, go to Google Images on the Internet and type in: Ultrasound, 30 weeks.

The implications are both political and philosophical.

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In the new Bush administration, abortion is going to become the hottest of hot buttons. The President will probably appoint three or four Supreme Court justices. At the very least, a Bush-leaning court would probably reverse previous rulings that outlaw a federal ban on third-term abortion. Ultimately, Roe vs. Wade itself may be in danger.

Obviously this is a crisis for the abortion-rights movement. It is also a problem for the Democrats. Most Americans are already queasy about third-term abortions. As ultrasound imagery improves, abortion-righters may find themselves without significant support in their own party.

Dogmatic orthodoxy on abortion is also a philosophical problem for the left. In the great moral debates of our time, they have rested their case on science, not blind belief. Lately they have taken to calling themselves "reality-based," in somewhat sneering contrast to presumably simpleminded "faith-based" conservatives. The problem is, this time they are on the wrong side of science.

It is true that millions of opponents of abortion arrived at their position without the need for photographic evidence. They have always believed that human life begins at conception. But there are million of others, neither reactionary nor religious, who have now concluded - or are in the process of concluding - that at some point, before birth, fetuses become babies, deserving of protection.

Finding that point will be the crux of the coming debate. If the abortion-rights movement wants the support of the middle-aged, socially liberal guys in the diners of America, it had better find a more convincing tone than anger - and an argument that doesn't require us to deny, on doctrinal grounds, the evidence of our own eyes.

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JWR contributor Zev Chafets is a columnist for The New York Daily News. Comment by clicking here.

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