Cover Story

Abortion: A right that's wrong

Even as the abortion culture sinks itself deeper into the fabric of American life-pro-lifers are preparing to mourn the 26th anniversary of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision-several factors continue to chip away at its acceptability. Political challenges, cultural argument, and compassionate alternatives are slowly but surely helping to form the consensus that abortion is wrong. A look back at abortion in America since the last dark Roe anniversary.

Issue: "38,000,000 Children Killed," Jan. 16, 1999

Although the murder of abortionist Barnett Slepian hoarded the headlines, many abortion stories were of greater significance throughout the year.

The pro-life movement will likely remember 1998 as the year when an American consensus began to emerge: The sexual revolution is over, and its deadly attendant, unrestricted abortion, is wrong, even if it's a right. Partial-birth abortion was the wedge issue that worked. Even the pro-aborts acknowledge this.

"The strategy of the anti-choice movement to shift from broad public attempts to overturn Roe in favor of a more incremental approach is working," National Abortion Rights Action League president Kate Michelman said-and the key technique was "graphic publicity" about the procedure. What works in the public mind and what works in the courts, however, are two different things.

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Judges blocked state partial-birth abortion bans in Iowa, New Jersey, Florida, Arkansas, Kentucky, Montana, and Wisconsin. The constitutionality of state laws forbidding the practice ultimately will be decided by the U.S. Supreme Court. Still, forcing President Clinton to veto a partial-birth abortion ban helped demonstrate the extremism of the "pro-choice" side-for Americans, surveys show, are uncomfortable with unrestricted abortion.

A New York Times/CBS poll showed the number of people who think abortion should be restricted rose from 40 percent in 1989 to 45 percent, while the number of people who support unlimited access dropped, from 40 percent to 32 percent. While 61 percent say abortion should be legal during the first trimester, only 15 percent want it legal in the second trimester, and a mere 7 percent in the third.

The bottom line is the number of abortions, and that seemed to be decreasing. Comparing 1996 figures (the most recent available) with those of 1990, Planned Parenthood's Alan Guttmacher Institute showed that the percentage of pregnancies ending in abortion was down from 30 percent to 26 percent, and the number of abortions had dropped from 1.6 million to a still-chilling 1.3 million. One factor: the decreasing number of clinics, with 86 percent of the counties in the United States mercifully without a practicing abortionist.

Another factor: the effectiveness of crisis pregnancy centers. Groups like CareNet have launched high-profile marketing campaigns and a nationwide toll-free number to make it easier for abortion-minded women to get pro-life help.

A third factor in the decline was the increasing social isolation of abortionists: Hailed by many as heroes during the 1960s and 1970s, they are now returning to pre-1960 pariah status. Abortion businesses get sympathy only on days like Jan. 29, 1998, when an early-morning explosion killed an off-duty police officer and injured a nurse in Birmingham, Ala. The FBI quickly confirmed that the explosion at the New Woman All Women Health Care Clinic on the city's south side was caused by a bomb; some weeks later, investigators began to focus their suspicion for this and other bombings (including the 1996 Olympic Park bombing) on a young man named Eric Rudolph. He has not been captured, and is thought to be hiding out in North Carolina forests.

After a gunman on Oct. 23 put a bullet through the back of Dr. Slepian-right in front of his horrified wife and son-cultural opinion shapers immediately blamed pro-lifers and in particular pro-life rhetoric for creating a "climate of hate."

"They must stop referring to abortion as murder," NARAL's Ms. Michelman demanded, "and to doctors who perform them as murderers."

Killings by abortionists never became a national issue because few in the press picked it up. Images of Dr. Slepian being lauded as a hero were rarely countered by images of abortionists standing trial for botched procedures-but that was the reality in 1998.

In Arizona, a doctor delivered a full-term baby he was trying to abort, a baby he told police he thought was a 23-week-old fetus. On June 30, 1998, Dr. John Biskind delivered a 6 pound, 2 ounce baby girl, though he fractured her skull and inflicted deep lacerations during the attempted abortion. The baby girl's injuries were not life threatening, and a Texas couple has adopted her; Dr. Biskind's botching, however, may be career threatening. Two previous abortions he performed resulted in the deaths of women. The Arizona Board of Medical Examiners censured him for one of those deaths (in 1995), investigated the second, and is looking into this new case.

Some particular faces emerged from the great cloud of victims:

· Pro-lifers mourned the death of 5-year-old Sarah Brown of Wichita, Kan., in October. Sarah was born with severe disabilities after a failed attempt at a late-term abortion in 1993, but she was adopted by Bill and Marykay Brown, two pro-life activists. Her parents say she was a happy little girl, though her disabilities and respiratory problems forced her to be hospitalized more than a dozen times during her short life. She died at home.

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