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Anti-abortion ruling sparks debate

Wons, Meghan | Wednesday, April 25, 2007

The Supreme Court’s ruling last Wednesday upholding a nationwide ban on a particular form of late-term abortions has created a firestorm of reactions from both anti-abortion and abortion rights activists and has generated diverging responses from faculty members at Notre Dame.

The Court’s 5-4 decision ruled that the Partial Abortion Ban Act – passed by Congress and made law in 2003 – does not violate a woman’s right to an abortion in light of previous abortion rights cases, including the landmark 1973 Roe v. Wade ruling and the 1992 Planned Parenthood v. Casey decision.

The most recent ruling upheld a ban on a method of abortion used most commonly after the 12th week of a pregnancy, in which an intact fetus is partially removed from the uterus before a doctor cuts or crushes its skull to complete the abortion.

“To talk about this [ruling] as a big pro-life victory is ridiculous,” Notre Dame Law School professor emeritus Charles Rice said. “Innocent human beings should not be executed. All that this ruling does is ban a certain method of execution.”

Rice, who is also a columnist for The Observer, said that “in any sane society,” the Constitutional question should not be whether an innocent person can be executed by a particular method, but how to define personhood.

But Donald Kommers, a constitutional law professor in the Law School, was more positive about the decision.

“The ruling simply sustained a particular Constitutional statute. I do think the decision is proper; I think the Supreme Court had a duty to sustain the congressional majority,” Kommers said. “This statute would probably be sustained in any other advanced democracy in the world … Canada, Germany, England, Italy, France, and even the Scandinavian countries would find the ruling quite proper.”

Kommers said the details of the procedure’s method – known as medically intact dilation and extraction, but as “partial-birth abortion” by its opponents – led to the Court’s ruling.

“The fetus is disassembled after it emerges from the woman’s womb,” Kommers said. “At that point, I’m not sure you can distinguish this procedure from infanticide.”

Women can still use a different method, during which the fetus is dismembered in the uterus, for abortions after the first trimester.

Many people in the U.S. feel that rulings on abortion are based on theological or moral arguments, Kommers said. He said in most western European countries, arguments against abortion are seen to be more biologically and physiologically based – they speak of “germinating life in the womb,” instead of using the term “fetus.”

Like Rice, however, Kommers said he believed defining personhood is a main issue at stake in the abortion debate.

“Roe v. Wade said the fetus is not a person within the context of the Constitution, but the Court did admit in the third trimester, the state has an interest in protecting life,” Kommers said.

Kommers said he does not foresee the Court overturning Roe v. Wade in the near future, but he does see states continuing to impose certain regulations, including “limitations that are quite proper and that most advanced European democracies impose, like waiting periods, doctors informing the woman of all the risks associated with abortion and childbirth and counseling for a woman before she makes a decision to terminate a pregnancy.”

“There are a number of social and economic policies that would encourage a pro-life culture in the United States, but no agenda of this sort has ever been presented.” Kommers said.

On campus every October, a sea of white crosses are hammered into South Quad by Notre Dame’s Right to Life club as a demonstration to bring attention the fates of the aborted fetuses.

The club draws attention to many life issues – though it focuses on abortion, euthanasia, and capital punishment – in a variety of ways, said senior Tim Wymore, who has served as the club’s political commissioner during past school year.

He said one of the ways the club is most publicly and politically involved in promoting a life- affirming culture is through its participation in the “March for Life,” held every January in Washington, D.C.

“I think it has the potential to save several thousand lives per year,” Wymore said. This figure, he said, is approximately equivalent to the number of partial birth abortions performed annually in the U.S.

While Wymore said he was hopeful about the ruling’s implications, he questioned whether some of those abortions that would have been performed by intact dilation and extraction would be carried out by other means.

“I think it sets a good precedent for possibly abolishing more late term abortions in the future,” he said.