Abortion by the numbers

Abortion | QUICK TAKES: U.S. abortion rate declines even as deadly new methods are discovered, from baby pesticides to abandonment; adoption suffers a setback in Oregon; "pro-choicers" oppose voluntary "Choose Life" license plates in Florida; prosecutors hit ex-NFLer with drive-by abortion charge

Issue: "Roe vs. Wade 2000," Jan. 22, 2000

More babies arriving alive
Bittersweet news: The national abortion rate continues to decline. A report released this month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) showed that the number of legal, induced abortions fell from 314 per 1,000 live births in 1996 to 305 per 1,000 live births in 1997. The figures represent a 3 percent decline in the number of abortions, and the lowest number of abortions nationally since 1975. But, since more than 1 in 4 babies still doesn't make it out of the womb alive, some family advocates took a sober view of the CDC's report: "We always rejoice that fewer lives are being taken by abortion," said Family Research Center's Janet Parshall, as she noted that the "lives of nearly 1.2 million children are still being snuffed out each year." In analyzing possible causes for the decrease, the CDC walked the pro-abortion party line. The agency named, among other factors, reduced access to abortion services and "changes in contraceptive practices, including an increased use of condoms among young women and men." In the final line of its analysis, almost as a grudging afterthought, the CDC mentioned "changes in attitudes concerning abortion" as a possible contributing factor. Indeed, recent opinion polls, including one released last year by the liberal American Association of University Women, show that most Americans now oppose abortion. The (new) pill
Bad news: Abortion enthusiasts may soon have at their disposal the legal equivalent of a baby pesticide. As early as March, the FDA is expected to approve mifepristone for use in the United States. Mifepristone, previously known as the French abortion pill RU-486, can be taken by women who wish to terminate their pregnancies without surgery during the first six to nine weeks of gestation. Planned Parenthood clinics are poised to leap aboard the medical abortion bandwagon: "We want to make this option available," said Sue Momeyer, director of Planned Parenthood of Southwest Ohio and Northern Kentucky. "There are some women who will find this preferable to traditional surgical abortion and there are some who will not." Once word spreads, it's possible many will not: The controversial abortion procedure requires the taking of two drugs one to three days apart. Typically, the aborting mother experiences cramps and bleeding that last two weeks. When the drug combination fails-as happens in about 5 percent of cases-the next step is surgical abortion. Still, pro-life activists are concerned that FDA approval of mifepristone will trigger an increase in the number of abortions. "If the FDA approves it, it will be legal. What we will do then is embark on a continuing educational campaign," said John Willke, president of International Right to Life. Exactly when mifepristone will be available is still not clear, but Christina Horzepa of the Population Council, which owns the U.S. rights to the drug, is hopeful "approval will come by the end of the first quarter." Left for dead
Doorsteps and trash bins are more suitable for daily newspapers than what many Houston residents found in those places last year-abandoned babies. Residents found 13 discarded babies over a period of 10 months in the nation's fourth largest city. Three of the 13 were found dead. The sheer number of abandonments left citizens and city officials stunned. "If we get one or two a year, that wouldn't be unusual," said George Ford, executive director of Harris County Child Protective Services. "But to have 13 within this time period is certainly extraordinary." Child-protection officials organized the Harris County Baby Abandonment Task Force, which launched an educational campaign aimed at the poor, pregnant teens thought responsible for abandoning the babies. Among the 13 Houston abandonments, only four mothers were identified. Police charged with murder a 15-year-old girl whose newborn daughter, found in a high-school trash bin, allegedly died of blows to the head. Now 75 billboards plead from Harris County roadsides, "Don't Abandon Your Baby!" Radio and television announcements urge troubled mothers to call a toll-free hotline. Ads also refer to a new Texas law that encourages mothers to take newborns to hospitals or fire stations rather than abandoning them. When pregnant moms call the task force's toll-free hotline, counselors provide referrals for temporary housing, prenatal care, adoption, and "other services." Sadly, one of the "other services" is abortion. That option might leave more babies like those already found dead, and it seems especially misguided since most of the babies found alive have already been adopted. Open Wounds
Should the birth records of adoptive children be unsealed against the birth mothers' wishes? Late last month, the Oregon judiciary said yes. A state appeals court unanimously upheld the nation's first voter-passed law giving adopted people access to their birth records. An injunction, granted in a case filed by two birth mothers who opposed the law, had stalled its implementation. But the court's ruling clears the way for the measure, which allows adoptees 21 or older to obtain their original birth certificates, to take immediate effect. The day the ruling was handed down, 1,468 adopted Oregonians applied to obtain their birth certificates. Said adoptee Helen Hill: "This is wonderful news for all of the people out there who have had one wall after another put in front of them all their lives." But a 33-year-old woman who does not want to be contacted by the daughter she placed for adoption seven years ago said, "It's open season on birth mothers. Oregon is saying 'Go find your birth mother. Go hunt her down.' If somebody were to show up at the door, and one of my other children were confronted with this, it would be traumatic." The three-judge panel that ruled in the case said birth mothers have no constitutional guarantee of privacy, even though the state promised them anonymity at the time they placed their children for adoption. "At no time in Oregon's history have the adoption laws required the consent of, or even notice to, a birth mother on the opening of adoption records or sealed birth certificates," the appeals court said in an opinion written by Judge Paul De Muniz. Four other states-Tennessee, Alaska, Kansas, and Delaware-also have recently adopted open records laws. Opponents of a blanket approach to open adoption say the policy could expose birth mothers to harassment by the children they gave up long ago. Worse, the new law could discourage mothers with problem pregnancies from choosing adoption in the first place, possibly even leading to an increase in the number of abortions. In England, after adoption records were opened in 1975, the number of adoptions declined 39 percent over the following 8 years. Some adoptive parents advocate an approach that considers the wishes of both the adoptee and the birth parents. "Mutual consent" registries-databases listing parents who would welcome contact from a child they'd previously placed for adoption-already exist in 29 states, including Idaho, Utah, and, most recently, Iowa. A game of tag
Pro-abortion activists attempting to block the sale in Florida of "Choose Life" license plates have raised the stakes: Attorney Barry Silver subpoenaed Gov. Jeb Bush and, late last week, was planning to take the governor's deposition by phone. Mr. Silver represents the Florida chapter of the National Organization for Women (NOW), a Florida synagogue, and two individual plaintiffs who brought suit against the tag law, saying the new plates would constitute government promotion of religion. The tag's sponsor, Choose Life, Inc., collected 10,000 signatures of people willing to purchase the tag. The state legislature approved the tag in 1999; Mr. Bush and his cabinet accepted the plate's design-the "Choose Life" slogan next to a crayon drawing of two kids-in November. Proceeds from sale of the bright yellow license plates would go to adoption agencies. Mr. Silver said Mr. Bush is a "driving force behind the ['Choose Life' tag] law, so he's in a good position to explain whether or not it's religiously motivated." A spokesman for Mr. Bush told reporters "the governor and the legal staff feel the subpoena is being used as a form of harassment." An earlier lawsuit blocking production and sale of the tags was dismissed last month by U.S. District judge Ralph W. Nimmons. "No one is forced to carry the Choose Life license plate on his car," wrote Judge Nimmons in a ruling released Dec. 23. "Florida motorists currently have 30 other specialty plates and two other 'regular' license plates to choose from. Therefore, the Choose Life plate does not force anyone to promote a view with which he does not agree." Drive-by abortion
The prematurely born, month-and-a-half-old son of Rae Carruth was released from a Charlotte, N.C., hospital on New Year's Eve, but his father sits in jail accused of attempting to destroy the child. By invoking an 1881 statute that lawmakers originally created to prohibit abortions, prosecutors won indictments against Mr. Carruth and three other conspirators. The former Carolina Panthers receiver is also charged with the drive-by murder of his girlfriend, Cherica Adams, who was 6H months pregnant with his baby at the time of the attack. She died Dec. 14 as the result of four gunshot wounds after spending almost a month in the hospital. The child, named Chancellor Lee Adams, was delivered by emergency Caesarean section shortly after the shooting. Using anti-abortion law in assault cases is unusual. The 1881 statute, listed under "Abortion and Kindred Offenses" in the North Carolina code, originally elevated the crime of abortion from a misdemeanor to a felony. It zeroes in on cases where "any person shall willfully administer to any woman, either pregnant or quick with child ... any medicine, drug, or other substance whatever, or shall use or employ any instrument or other means with intent thereby to destroy such child." A 1967 statute providing for legal abortion supersedes the 1881 law, but the old statute remains in the code. Prosecutors apparently are using the old law to pursue a first-degree murder conviction and the death penalty for Mr. Carruth and his co-defendants. First-degree murder convictions require prosecutors to prove either premeditation or that the murder was carried out during the commission of another felony. Attempting to destroy the child would be a base felony for proof of first-degree murder. The charge also can be used as a persuasive tool for a jury. "By charging that crime, you open up opportunities to present evidence with relation to injuries to the baby," said Tony Scheer, a Charlotte defense attorney and former prosecutor. "It opens the case up to more emotionally compelling evidence." Historically the law has been used in cases of illegal abortions or wrongfully induced labor, and none of the lawyers interviewed could specifically recall it being used in a felony murder or assault case. Other states have charged mothers who abuse drugs during pregnancy with harming their unborn children. More than half of the states have feticide laws. A federal "Unborn Victims of Violence Act" has also passed in the House of Representatives and awaits consideration by the Senate. One problem in the Carruth case is that North Carolina law has no protection for the life of the unborn. Barbara Holt of North Carolina Right to Life said, "The action against the child needs to be addressed and the law doesn't provide for that." Deborah Ross, an attorney for the North Carolina Civil Liberties Union, said the old law "protects women from unscrupulous people and actions," but noted, "There's going to be appeals out the wazoo if they convict on this." Robin Davis of the pro-abortion National Organization for Women, though, was nervous about how the law could be used: "If [prosecutors] succeeded in this case it would be cause for concern how it would be used elsewhere." She said that perhaps a law was needed to provide for the "aggravating circumstance" of the Carruth case, but not for the protection of the unborn. "A fetus is not a person," she insisted. "Maybe we do need a statute, but not this old one." Challenges at home and the road for activist Terry
Randall Terry, the founder (in 1986) of Operation Rescue and now a talk-show host heard on 34 radio stations, says he is "thinking about" running for the U.S. Senate as a third-party candidate against New York City mayor Rudolph Giuliani and Hillary Clinton. Based near Binghamton, N.Y., Mr. Terry, 40, ran unsuccessfully for Congress in 1998 but raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to finance pro-life-oriented media messages. "By running this year, my purpose would be to show the American people aborted fetuses on television and to cause the defeat of pro-abortion Republicans like Giuliani," he told WORLD. He may have difficulty raising money this year, which will limit his effectiveness. Mr. Terry said he has recently joined a charismatic Episcopal group and is now "writing a liturgy" for pro-life activists. But as he campaigns for traditional family values in his broadcasts and in appearances around the country, he is dogged by problems close to home, including those affecting his own marriage. Mr. Terry told WORLD his marriage has been troubled since it began 18 years ago. He said he and his wife, Cindy, have been in and out of counseling for years. Last August, he moved to separate quarters nearby, but said he and his wife remain under professional counseling, and he visits his children. "There are no moral failings," Mr. Terry said. "We are crying out to God for mercy; it's a nightmare, and we need lots of prayer." He acknowledged his opponents could "have a field day" when his domestic problems become known. But, he said, "I need to remain faithful to my calling."

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