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Jewish World Review July 10, 2000/7 Tamuz, 5760

Suzanne Fields

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Consumer Reports

Abortion as cruel and unusual punishment -- ABORTION is surely one of the ugliest words in the English language. That's why advocates for and against it have reduced it to euphemism, like "pro-choice'' and "pro-life.'' Such euphemism protects the sensibility, at least a little.

Nevertheless, abortion is legal, and likely to remain that way in the first trimester because the majority of Americans want it that way. That doesn't make it right, but it does observe the reality. Many in this majority, probably most, would never have an abortion themselves, but they know about the back-alley abortions in the bad old days when women, such as a married aunt of mine, died at the hands of abortion butchers who prospered outside the law in the way bootleggers did during Prohibition.

Many of those underground abortionists were sadists, often using no anesthetic, taking evil pleasure in sermonizing over the vulnerable young women who climbed into the stirrups on their bloody tables. Roe v. Wade, in the reluctant view of most Americans, is the guarantee against a return to those days.

Partial-birth abortion is another matter. No euphemism has stuck to describe it. It's about birthing a live baby, no longer a fetus, whose legs dangle half-way out of the womb, sometimes kicking, before a doctor stabs his scissors into the skull and suctions out the tiny brain. It's gruesome, callous, evil.

As polarized as the abortion debate has become, it's nevertheless remarkable that pro-choice women cannot bring themselves to join their pro-life sisters in calling this what it is, cruel and unusual. Men and women of good faith earnestly believe that capital punishment is a legitimate expression of society's revulsion at murder, but no one -- well, not very many -- defend the killing of an innocent man as an acceptable consequence of capital punishment. The debate over errors in applying the death sentence have inspired advocates of capital punishment to call for a moratorium until advanced technology eliminates all doubt of error.

Surely, I thought, partial-birth abortion would be another place for second thoughts among the majority who support abortion rights. That hasn't happened. Partial-birth abortion is still treated as a political issue, not the moral issue it is. The defenders of partial-birth abortion regard eliminating it as the first step on a slippery slope leading to overturning Roe v. Wade. Logic does not compel such a conclusion any more than a moratorium on exacting the death penalty becomes a slippery slope toward evacuating death row.

Reasonable discrimination, it seems to me, ought to be possible in both debates. And sometimes it is, and in unexpected places. Columnist Richard Cohen of The Washington Post, the archetypal liberal male feminist, nods in agreement with Justices Clarence Thomas, Antonin Scalia and Anthony Kennedy in their Supreme Court dissent to the decision overturning Nebraska's prohibition of partial-birth abortion.

"Late-term abortions may be necessary,'' he writes, "but you cannot read about them without feeling diminished as a human being. Something awful has happened, and simply as a matter of principle we ought to be opposed.'' Pro-choice women cheered the decision, he observes, "and talked as if late-term abortions affect only the woman -- no mention of the fetus-child with the collapsed skull.''

In the chilling wake of such cheering, we can understand how Princeton could have awarded a prestigious chair in ethics to Peter Singer, the Australian professor who advocates killing disabled infants (including hemophiliacs) up to 28 days after their inconvenient birth. "Killing a disabled infant is not morally equivalent to killing a person,'' Singer writes. "Very often, it is not wrong at all.''

What is there to add, for anyone with a shred of decency in his soul?

There's a message in all of this for pro-choice Republicans. In the Weekly Standard, Noemie Emery offers this advice to pro-choice Republicans. "They could say that while they are not willing to ban abortion, they're delighted to be in the pro-life party, the party that stands for restraint and for conscience, the party that says life itself must be valued and not carelessly thrown away.''

No euphemisms required.


07/06/00: Surviving 'survivor' TV
07/03/00: Independence Day with Norman Rockwell
06/29/00: Here comes 'something old'
06/26/00: Waiting too long for the baby
06/22/00: Good teachers, curious students and oxymorons
06/19/00: Wanted: Some ants for Gore's pants
06/15/00: Like father, like daughter
06/12/00: Culture wars and conservative warriors
06/08/00: Return of the housewife
06/05/00: Hillary and Al -- playing against type
05/31/00: The sexual revolution confronts the SUV
05/25/00: Waiting for the movie
05/22/00: Pistol packin' mamas
05/18/00: Journalists and the 'new time' religion
05/15/00: There's nothing like a (military) dame
05/11/00: 'The Human Stain' on campus
05/09/00: We've come a long way, Betty Friedan
05/04/00: From George Washington to Mansa Masu
05/01/00: Gore's ruthless doublespeak
04/28/00: Doing it Castro's way
04/24/00: Women's studies beget narrow minds
04/17/00: The slippery slope of anti-Semitism
04/13/00: A villain larger than life
04/10/00: When mourning becomes an economic tragedy
04/03/00: The last permissible bigotry
03/30/00: Seeking the political Oscar
03/23/00: The gaying of America
03/20/00: Pointy-eared quadrupeds on campus
03/16/00: The shocking art of the establishment
03/13/00: Sawdust on the campaign trail
03/10/00: Campaign rhetoric of manhood
03/06/00: The Amphetamine of the People
03/02/00: Elegy for Amadou
02/29/00: With only a million, what's a poor girl to do?
02/24/00: The changing politics of change
02/16/00: Tip from Hillary: 'Let 'em eat eggs'
02/10/00: No seances with Eleanor
02/07/00: Campaigning like our founding fathers
02/03/00: When neo-Nazis have short memories
01/31/00: George W. -- 'Ladies man' and 'man's man'
01/27/00: Dead white males and live white politicians
01/25/00: Smarting over presidential smarts
01/21/00: A post-modern song for `The Sopranos'
01/19/00: When personality is a long-distance plus
01/13/00: French lessons in amour --- and marriage
01/10/00: Reaching for the Big Golden Apple
01/07/00: Liddy Dole as the face of feminism
01/04/00: Hillary: From victim to victor
12/30/99: 'Dream catchers' for the millennium
12/27/99: In search of a candidate with strength and eloquence
12/21/99: The president as First Lady
12/16/99: Columbine with blurred hindsight
12/09/99: Homeless deserve discriminating attention
12/07/99: Casual censors and deadly know-nothings
12/02/99: Why mom didn't make general: A reality tale
11/30/99: Potholes on the road to the Promised Land
11/25/99: A feast for the spirit and the stomach
11/23/99: Fathers need to say 'I (can) do'
11/18/99: Adventures of a conservative pundit
11/15/99: Traveling with Jefferson on the information highway
11/11/99: Wanted: 'Foliage of forbiddinness' for the oval office
11/09/99: Eggs, art and rotten commerce
11/05/99: Al Gore, 'Alpha Male'. Bow wow.
11/01/99: Gay love
10/28/99: Lose one Dole, lose two
10/26/99: Rebels with a violent cause
10/21/99: Reforming parents, reforming schools
10/19/99: The male mystique -- he shops
10/13/99:The campaign of the Teletubbies
10/08/99: Money is in the eye of the art dealer
10/01/99: Lincoln's 'Almost Chosen People'
09/29/99: Introducing Bill and Hillary Bickerson
09/27/99: Must we wait for the next massacre?
09/24/99: Miss America meets Miss'd America
09/21/99: Princeton's 'professor death'
09/16/99: The Cisneros lesson
09/13/99: No clemency for personal politics
09/08/99: M-M-M is for manhood
08/30/99: Blocking the schoolhouse door
08/27/99: No kick from cocaine
08/23/99: Movies don't kill people
08/19/99: A rude awakening
08/16/99: Dubyah and that 'language' thing
08/09/99: Chauvinist sows -- oink oink

©1999, Suzanne Fields. Distributed by Los Angeles Times Syndicate