A poker game that has been on hold since 1973 was resumed this past week in South Dakota. Evidently, state legislators there weren't looking for any penny-ante stuff as they pushed their chips to the center of the table and went "all in" in hopes of forcing the hand of nine very distinguished players. Those players hold their sessions in Washington and, as of now, it is uncertain if they'll be willing to consider an overturn when the river card is turned over.
Roe v. Wade is arguably the most famous of Supreme Court decisions. When the court decided on Jan. 22, 1973, to side with a pregnant, unmarried Texas woman's claim that she should be entitled to an abortion "performed by a competent, licensed physician, under safe clinical conditions," they unleashed a torrent of discord that broke America into two opposed camps.
One could argue that in today's America you can get a much better gauge of a person's political leanings by asking if they are "pro-choice" or "pro-life" than you could by asking if they're Republican or Democrat. That's why the developments in South Dakota have some people excited, while others are worried.
One of those who are worried is Mrs. X. The Niagara Falls woman unexpectedly found herself in the middle of the debate a few years ago and feels strongly that outsiders have little right to judge a woman on a choice she believes epitomizes the word "personal." We'll learn more about Mrs. X in a moment. First, let's take a closer look at the motives behind the decision in the Mount Rushmore state. South Dakota is looking to become the first state to outlaw all abortions (unless it is necessary to save the woman's life) since a 1989 Supreme Court ruling affirmed individual states' rights to regulate the procedure. Most political observers concede that the state has little chance of having the decision upheld -- at least in the short term. However, they do believe that the legislation will perform an important task for which it was intended. It will act as a litmus test to gauge the true abortion stance of newly appointed Chief Justices John Roberts and Samuel Alito.
"Unless a legislature passes a bill testing the opinion, there is no way to know if the court's opinion has changed,'' Vikram Amar, a law professor at the University of San Francisco in California, told Bloomberg Media. "They can't signal a change of attitude without a vehicle for it.''
Prior to Roe v. Wade, young women had abortions. The difference was that many of them were being performed in dirty conditions by unskilled non-medical personnel. Many women died during the procedure. Despite having the knowledge of that supreme risk, countless women still chose to abort. Their choice would seem to rebut the pro-life argument that one can stop abortions by making them illegal.
Another pro-life argument is that most abortions are done as an act of convenience for the pregnant woman. "They're using it as birth control," comes the common refrain from anti-abortion protesters. As if it would be perfectly logical to set Ms. Abortion at the same dinner table with Mr. Condom, Mrs. Diaphragm and Miss I.U.D.
It's that sort of one-dimensional thinking that gets Mrs. X's blood to boiling. In the early weeks of the summer of 2003 she would have called you a madman had you suggested that she would ever even consider having an abortion. Just a few weeks later she would have anointed you a prophet.
"My husband and I were expecting our second child. Our oldest was just 18 months old," she says through eyes that still stream tears whenever the subject of her terminated pregnancy is mentioned.
Mrs. X and her husband are not the type of couple that you think of as prime candidates for an abortion procedure. They own a big house in the suburbs, drive late-model automobiles and are well-respected in the community. Everything about them screams upper middle class.
"We just wanted to be the perfect nuclear family, with one boy and one girl," said Mrs. X. "We thought we were going to have it all and then 'poof,' it all disappeared in an instant."
That instant happened during a routine sonogram performed by a nurse at Mrs. X's OB/GYN office.
"We'd just been through it with our first child, so it was no big deal. Our big debate was if we should find out if we were going to be having a boy or a girl. Everything was fine and then the nurse seemed to be troubled by something. My husband asked her if anything was wrong and she said, 'I'll be right back,' and left the room."
When the nurse returned, she was with Mrs. X's OB/GYN. The doctor explained that what the nurse had seen on the sonogram suggested that the baby had Down syndrome. Furthermore, she explained, the baby's skull and heart were not properly formed. The doctor gave the baby no chance for long-term survival and said that it would "never leave the hospital." An amniocentesis was scheduled to confirm her diagnosis.
"We were devastated -- in total shock," Mrs. X explained. "We had been planning the nursery and picking out names and we just felt like we'd been hit with a ton of bricks."
The amniocentesis was performed at Millard Fillmore Hospital in Buffalo. It confirmed that the baby did indeed have Down syndrome. The couple asked for a second opinion on the heart and skull diagnosis and it was confirmed that there was no hope for long-term survival.
"We spent a lot of time crying and praying. We asked ourselves if it was fair to bring a child into the world only to have him live a short life filled with discomfort and pain. Would it also be fair to our firstborn for us to be in the hospital continuously? These are the questions we struggled with and we asked God to guide us."
The couple decided on an abortion, but they were not ready for what lay ahead.
"I guess we thought that it would be different if you were having an abortion for medical reasons. We thought that the procedure would be performed in a hospital, but it wasn't. We were sent to the same abortion office in Amherst that everyone else goes to, the one with the protesters outside," said Mrs. X.
One protester, in particular, drew the ire of Mrs. X and her husband.
"They make them stand out by the road, so you have to drive by them like it's some sort of perp walk. They were all holding signs and reciting prayers. One old woman had a sign that said 'Your baby is healthy, don't kill it.' I wanted to jump out of the car and scream at her, 'No, my baby is not healthy. How dare you suppose such a thing? How dare you judge me?'"
Three years removed from what she calls "the worst day of my life," Mrs. X's feelings haven't softened for those who would deny a woman the right to an abortion.
"They paint it as all so simple, so black-and-white. They want a woman to have her baby, no matter the circumstances. Then what? Who will adopt those unwanted babies? Have you ever looked at those adoption ads in the newspaper? 'Couple seeks healthy, white newborn.' What about the unhealthy babies? What about the non-white babies? Who will care for them? I never hear that answer presented."
Mrs. X also has a message for the South Dakota Legislature and, in the near future, the Supreme Court of the United States of America.
"Unless a person has had to lie on that table and feel what it's like to have an abortion, they shouldn't have a say as to what another woman can or cannot do with her body. There is a reason it is called pro-choice. It's because no one is pro-abortion. You can't go through what I did and ever want to have to live through it again."
She continued, "But a woman needs to have a choice, and have it be her and her partner's choice alone, as to what is best in their situation. I pray to God that none of the women holding up those signs in front of abortion clinics are ever put into the position that I was. But if they are, I also pray that they'll still have the right to decide for themselves what they should do."
Justice Harry Blackmun used the following words in introducing the opinion of the court in Roe v. Wade:
"We forthwith acknowledge our awareness of the sensitive and emotional nature of the abortion controversy, of the vigorous opposing views, even among physicians, and of the deep and seemingly absolute convictions that the subject inspires. One's philosophy, one's experiences, one's exposure to the raw edges of human existence, one's religious training, one's attitudes toward life and family and their values, and the moral standards one establishes and seeks to observe, are all likely to influence and to color one's thinking and conclusions about abortion."
He goes on to say, "Our task, of course, is to resolve the issue by constitutional measurement, free of emotion and of predilection. We seek earnestly to do this, and, because we do, we have inquired into, and in this opinion place some emphasis upon, medical and medical-legal history and what that history reveals about man's attitudes toward the abortion procedure over the centuries."
For the sake of all Miss and Mrs. X's who have lived and will have to live through "the worst day" of their lives, let's hope that the court follows the same conscientious route when the cards South Dakota have shuffled are dealt out in the court building.
|Niagara Falls Reporter||www.niagarafallsreporter.com||Feb. 28 2006|