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Gonzales v. Carhart: One Year Later: Letting the People Decide

By Denise M. Burke
Vice President & Legal Director, Americans United for Life

One year ago, the public debate over abortion was irrevocably altered. In the landmark Gonzales v. Carhart decision, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the federal ban on partial-birth abortion and, more importantly, abdicated, at least in part, its role as the “National Abortion Control Board.”

In its decision, the Court signaled an increasing willingness to blunt attempts by abortion extremists to use the courts to unilaterally impose their radical agenda on the American public, and an increasing willingness to let the people decide abortion policy. The immediate reaction of activists, state legislators, and the public confirmed this critical shift.

While abortion extremists hastily recycled the hyperbolic rhetoric of the 1970s, legislators and the public increasingly considered prudent responses to the mounting evidence of the negative impact of abortion on women.

In one public statement after another, pro-abortion groups and politicians condemned the decision and the Court, predicting — like modern-day Chicken Littles — that the outlawing of abortion was at hand and that women were about to be relegated to “second-class” status. For example, while predicting the demise of women’s health and equality, Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights intoned, “Make no mistake — [the] ruling takes us perilously close to a complete reversal of Roe v. Wade.”

Despite such overwrought claims, Roe has not been reversed through court or legislative action. So, what has been the response of legislatures around the nation? Have they rushed to introduce abortion bans or any measures that would endanger women?

A review of the completed 2007 and the in-progress 2008 state legislative sessions shows that, while several states have introduced abortion bans, the number of states considering complete or near-complete bans on abortion has not significantly increased since the Gonzales decision.

Rather, what has increased is legislation designed to protect women from the negative consequences of abortion. Among these measures are comprehensive informed consent requirements, requirements that a woman be offered the opportunity to view an ultrasound before an abortion, and mandated minimum health and safety standards for abortion clinics. These protective measures, supported by a majority of Americans, are hardly the draconian threats to women or their health that abortion supporters gravely predicted.

However, abortion extremists continue to ignore the concerned and reasonable voice of the American public. In a July 2007 speech to the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, Presidential candidate Senator Barack Obama demonstrated the resolve of some abortion supporters when he questioned the type of America that the Gonzales court promised America’s daughters and resolved, “[o]n this fundamental issue [abortion], I will not yield,” vowing to continue his support of an agenda that prominently features partial-birth abortion, a practice that more than 80 percent of Americans abhor.

Notably, in the days following the Gonzales decision, Senator Obama, along with Senator Hillary Clinton and others, introduced the federal Freedom of Choice Act, a radical attempt to enshrine abortion-on-demand into our laws, to sweep aside existing state laws that the majority of Americans support — such as requirements that licensed physicians perform abortions and parental involvement statutes — and to prevent states from enacting similar protective measures in the future.

More importantly, the Freedom of Choice Act is a cynical attempt to prematurely end the debate over abortion and declare “victory” in the face of mounting evidence that (a) the American public does not support the vast majority of abortions being performed in the U.S. each year and (b) abortion has a negative impact on women.

Thirty-five years after Roe, abortion supporters are dismayed that abortion remains a divisive issue and that their agenda has not been submissively accepted by the American public. Rather than confronting legitimate concerns, they choose to blatantly ignore the growing evidence that abortion hurts women. In his speech to Planned Parenthood last summer, Senator Obama indicated that he is “absolutely convinced that culture wars are so nineties,” and that it is “time to turn the page” since he and other abortion supporters are “tired about arguing about the same ol’ stuff.”

Same ol’ stuff? What evidence are they so cavalierly dismissing? Here are just two recent examples: A study from a major U.S. medical school that abortion increases women’s risk of pre-term births, low-birth weight infants, placenta previa, and mental health issues; and recent evidence from Great Britain confirming the tremendous psychological toll abortion can exact, including depression leading to suicide.

Any fair and discerning person can see that this is not the “same ol’ stuff” and that the ever-increasing evidence of abortion’s negative impact is deserving of thoughtful consideration and debate. One is left to wonder how long supporters of abortion will continue to trot out their tired and thoroughly-debunked rhetoric — “abortion is good for women, abortion is safe, the mere availability of abortion guarantees women’s health and social equality” — and refuse to deal honestly with the facts.

With the Supreme Court’s increasing deference to the people, it falls to the American public to weigh such unsupported rhetoric in light of increasing evidence of abortion’s negative impact, and to decide issues of abortion policy wisely — just as the Founders trusted them to do.