19 April 2007

A shifting of the political ground

As if there were ever any doubt, this week's Supreme Court ruling on abortion ensures that the Court will be a major issue in next year's Presidential election. This New York Times editorial sums things up well.

The ruling in and of itself does not mark a really major assault on individual freedom. Intact dilation and extraction is a very rare form of abortion, generally used only in unusual situations; so very few individuals will be affected by it, and when an actual case arises, it's anyone's guess whether any prosecutor will really want to try to imprison a doctor for helping a desperate woman. But the key point is that the Supreme Court rejected an almost identical law in 2000; the only difference in the present case is that there are two new Bush appointees (Roberts and Alito) on the Court. Moreover, the ruling flies in the face of precedents since 1973 and also six lower federal court rulings on the same law. This shows that the fears of individual-choice advocates, that a President influenced by the Christian Right could ultimately undermine abortion rights via Supreme Court appointments, rest on a solid foundation.

And while the law which the Court has validated bans only one rare form of abortion, it is alarmingly draconian in other ways. It does not contain an exception for cases where the woman's health is at stake (though there is an exception for life-and-death cases). It provides criminal penalties for doctors -- up to two years imprisonment. And it is a federal law, overriding all state laws which are more permissive. So much for the anti-abortionists' earlier position that such laws should be left to the states.

How can we be sure the Supreme Court won't later approve even worse restrictions, especially if one or more additional judges are appointed by a conservative President? A threat which has been hypothetical has moved into the realm of the actual. This changes the political calculus fundamentally. The NYT quotes Giuliani as saying that the Court “reached the correct conclusion." If this statement is sincerely meant (something I can't easily judge, given the nature of the maneuvering necessarily involved in seeking the Republican nomination), it certainly calls his acceptability into question, from my viewpoint. I note that Clinton, Obama, and Edwards all firmly oppose the ruling.

The specter of theocracy has just become a little more solid, a little more menacing. It's time to be on guard, and reconsider our options.

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4 Comments:

Blogger Chell said...

It does not contain an exception for cases where the woman's health is at stake (though there is an exception for life-and-death cases).

In other words, basically the only reason for a woman to have an abortion at that stage means little to nothing now. One scare tactic commonly used by pro-lifers (like we're all not pro-life -ha!) is to give the impression that late term abortions are as routinely done as breathing. And now this opens the door to further dictate what a woman is to do when it is about her own body.

19 April, 2007 09:28  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Exactly so. It's bizarre to make a law that says a doctor cannot do what he judges necessary for his patient's health. That's the whole point of being a doctor.

If some knuckle-dragging prosecutor does drag a doctor into court for violating this law, I think the Republicans are going to seriously regret passing it. The trial will turn into a protracted public-relations disaster for them. Faced with actual individual victims of the law (the doctor and patient), millions of people will be forced to confront the issue as a tangible reality rather than just through abstract platitudes like "culture of life". Right-wing columnists will dig into the background of the doctor and patient and try to smear them personally, which will backfire. It could actually be rather entertaining to watch the process of political self-destruction, except that real people's freedom will be in danger.

19 April, 2007 10:46  
Anonymous Patrick Bateman said...

I hesitate to mention that the ruling was along strict religious lines - the Catholic judges all voting in a manner which Vatican City would no doubt find agreeable.

Interestingly, we have a very similar situation here in Australia - our High Court's composition for the next decade or so will be determined by our next election, which is to be held later this year. Our three most outspoken and freethinking judges are set to retire. If the conservatives retain power, the Court will be all but neutered for the next decade or so.

20 April, 2007 00:17  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

I hesitate to mention that the ruling was along strict religious lines - the Catholic judges all voting in a manner which Vatican City would no doubt find agreeable.

Interesting. This needs to be more widely known. It also implies that the Catholic judges on the Supreme Court are not typical of American Catholics, who (according to surveys) are not radically more anti-abortion than the general US population. It's the evangelicals (Protestant) who are most fervently opposed to it.

20 April, 2007 05:05  

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