Cover Story

Red zone defense

"Red zone defense" Continued...

Issue: "Babies are back," Jan. 29, 2011

Medical personnel are increasingly unwilling to participate in some or all abortions. After the University of Wisconsin's Surgical Center in Madison announced in early 2009 a plan to perform second-trimester abortions, Nancy Fredericks and two of her fellow anesthesiologists-three of the four on staff-said they would not participate in the procedure. Fredericks then argued that it wasn't safe to perform a procedure in a place where only a few doctors and nurses were willing participants. When the procedure goes wrong and there are emergencies, other staffers would have to step in or decide where to draw the line: Could their consciences let them assist with the aftermath of an abortion?

While Fredericks stated her case on the inside, defending rights of conscience that had legal standing because pro-life legislators had years before passed laws asserting them, pro-life activists conducted regular protests outside the surgical center. Fredericks said she owes "a debt of gratitude" to the pro-lifers who rallied around her. Last month the University of Wisconsin officially dropped its plan to offer abortions, saying leaders were concerned about patient safety and security. Fredericks says, "It does feel like a victory. It really does. . . . The right thing happened."

In 2010 abortion supporters continued to worry about the graying of abortion providers. They passed around a report from the Center for Reproductive Rights bemoaning a 37 percent decrease in abortion providers since 1982; now, seven out of eight U.S. counties have no abortionists. The majority of abortionists are age 50 or older and, according to Medical Students for Choice, only 13 percent of OB/GYN residents provide abortions.

Abortion supporters have routinely attributed the decrease to violence and harassment from pro-lifers, but a 2010 University of California-San Francisco study paints a different picture. This survey found that only half of the OB/GYNs who intended to perform abortions actually performed them, and the number is low not "out of fear of violence or harassment" but rather because the medical profession simply doesn't welcome abortion. Either their practices don't allow it or their colleagues disapprove.

Joe DeCook, vice president and director of operations for the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, said so many doctors are uncomfortable with abortion because it goes against the reason most of them decided to practice medicine in the first place: "Pregnancy is not a disease. Pregnancy is not an illness, so abortion is not healthcare." In Wisconsin, Nancy Fredericks noted that even doctors who supported abortion didn't want to perform one: "It's easy to be an armchair politically correct person. But it's another thing to actually go and participate in a procedure."

Until Roe v. Wade is overturned, state legislators and judges still face severe limitations-but last year the impact of a 2007 Supreme Court decision, Gonzales v. Carhart, became apparent. Justice Anthony Kennedy's majority opinion declared, "Respect for human life finds an ultimate expression in the bond of love the mother has for her child," and opined that the State has an interest in ensuring that "so grave a choice" as abortion is made with adequate information.

Kennedy's opinion also gave state legislators more opportunity to pass laws in areas where there is medical and scientific uncertainty. As Helen Alvare, associate professor of family law at George Mason University, explains, that decision is significant because for the first time, the Court spoke not just of the mother as an "atomistic individual making choices about her life," but suggested that abortion law could be viewed in the context of family law and familial relationships.

In 2010 Kennedy's decision emboldened legislators in several states to pass informed-consent laws that require either abortion counseling or a 24-hour waiting period. Based on the argument that unborn children feel pain at 20 weeks, Nebraska banned abortion after that gestational age. More states this year may do the same. Last year legislators in Kansas, New Jersey, South Carolina, and other states debated bans on abortion when an unborn child is "viable," able to stay alive outside the womb.

In Washington, the new GOP majority in the House of Representatives will be challenged to demonstrate that it is, in the words of Rep. Chris Smith, R-N.J., the "most pro-life House ever." Smith, who co-chairs the Congressional Pro-Life Caucus, is pushing for the No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act (see p. 54), and hopes to protect conscience clauses that would protect pro-lifers from forced involvement in abortion. Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, says he wants to be "the most pro-life speaker ever," and pro-life groups plan to hold him to that.


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