Abortion Continues to Split the Nation


Gail Collins, the New York Times columnist, usually writes brilliant biting humor, but on May 29, in a column about Scott Walker, Governor of Wisconsin and candidate for the Republican presidential nomination, boasting about his latest anti-abortion laws, Ms. Collins wrote: “Women’s motives for terminating a pregnancy are as varied and complex as … women. A college freshman regretting a careless fling can share the waiting room with a middle-aged waitress with four children and an abusive husband, or a newlywed ... who discovered the little girl she was anticipating so eagerly was not going to survive delivery because the fetus’ development was, in the doctor’s words, ‘incompatible with life’.”

Even this list is incomplete. The lysosomal storage disorders are rare, but terrible. In many of them the child is apparently normal at birth, but begins to decline. In metachromatic leukodystrophy, the infantile form is characterized by progressive paralysis and dementia usually beginning before age 4 yr and resulting in death about 5 years after onset of symptoms. There is no effective treatment. For some chromosomal disorders there is a treatment, but these treatments are terribly expensive costing hundreds of thousands of dollars a year. Wisconsin is among the states that has not expanded Medicaid.

These are personal tragedies – and they are best left personal, without state governments requiring physicians to give a slide show with a mandated script. In spite of the number of circumstances which, on reflection, would justify termination of a pregnancy, the Republican Party continues to press for increasingly restrictive, with politicians taking pride in having the most restrictive laws in the country In January 2013, the Arkansas legislature voted to ban abortions in any case where a heartbeat could be detected, usually about 12 weeks. Although Governor Mike Beebe, a Democrat, vetoed the bill, the Republican legislature overrode the veto.

Meanwhile, North Dakota passed a bill that would ban abortions after 6 weeks. At 6 weeks a woman may not even know she is pregnant, and the lysosomal storage disorders can normally only be detected at 10 weeks. Both laws were ruled unconstitutional, but both states are appealing the decision.

These considerations would seem to call for a serious national discussion on abortion as well as other social issues. The most strident anti-abortion advocates, such as former Sen. Rick Santorum, now running for the Republican nomination for President, would make no exception for rape, and would ban the genetic tests that might show chromosomal abnormalities (although some of these problems can be reflected in an ultrasound, which is required viewing. Ultrasound can’t diagnose chromosomal problems, but they can lead to suspicions that further mtesting might be indicated.) Should we, as a nation, spend more in Medicaid and food stamps to assure that every child is cared for and well fed? We’re not getting this discusssion – just more restrictions on abortion and cuts in spending on Medicaid and food stamps.

According to a May 2014 Gallup poll “Americans remain divided on the abortion issue, with 47% of US adults describing their views as “pro-choice” and 46% as “pro-life,” continuing a pattern seen since 2010.” Gallop also reports “Americans’ identification with the two abortion politics labels differs somewhat by gender and age, with women and 18- to 34-year olds tilting pro-choice, and men and Americans aged 55 and older tilting pro-life. Middle-aged adults are evenly split on the issue.” These statistics would hardly explain the GOPs fervor or success in passing anti-abortion legislation with such fervor. Other factors may provide an understanding. As with other issues, Republicans are more likely to attract single-issue votors. This is similar to the effect the NRA has on political debate. While the electorate, all parties, supports background checks for firearms purchases, most consider voting for a candidate who opposes background checks. The the NRA, like the “Pro-Life” contingent can effectively guarantee a voting bloc on their issue alone.

Secondly, the Republicans have a better record of getting out the vote in off-year elections. Perhaps this ties in with their evangelistic fervor on these same social issues, but it has let them capture state governments on days when the Democrats stayed home.

But finally, Dr. Sarah K. Cowan, an assistant professor at NYU, published a report entitled Secrets and Misperceptions: The Creation of Self-Fulfilling Illusions in the journal Sociological Science (Nov. 2014) “ People tell their own secrets because successfully carrying out the secret logistically requires it, because it is unhealthy and challenging to keep secrets, to get emotional support, and to build intimacy.” But — Prof Cowan reports, people will only share their secrets with others who are likely to sympathize rather than stigmatize. In a report on the web site futurity.org, Prof Cowan is quoted as saying “Americans who are opposed to abortion are less likely to hear that their sister, mother, or friend had an abortion than their pro-choice peers.”

The result is inevitable. Those who oppose abortion are kept from knowing how the issue affects the lives of those close to them, and continue the party line. It’s the usual – education is the answer, if we could just get them to ask the question.

Sam Uretsky is a writer and pharmacist living on Long Island, N.Y. Email sdu01@outlook.com.

From The Progressive Populist, July 1-15, 2015


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