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What’s in a Name?

Ruth Miller

As any well-informed person will tell you about the partial birth abortion ban, the definition is everything. “Well-informed” is the operative word in that statement. Unfortunately, in college it’s difficult to stay current on national events, let alone separate the propaganda from the actual news. Throw on top of that the saturation of the news market by headlines such as “X Number of GIs Killed in Iraq” and “Jessica Simpson Confused About Y,” and it becomes understandable that the partial birth abortion ban passed almost unnoticed by the general public. If it weren’t for the pro-life and pro-choice posters and booths, I probably wouldn’t have noticed until I went home over Thanksgiving and read the pile of magazines that have been collecting on my desk since August.

Honesty compels me to admit that when I did hear about the ban, it didn’t seem very important. I wasn’t too clear on what constituted “partial birth,” so I asked around. The general opinion was that partial birth abortions occur very late into the pregnancy -- so late as to be considered immoral even by most pro-choice standards.

This seems reasonable. The bill’s sponsor, Senator Rick Santorum, opened the debate by saying, “The term ‘partial birth’ comes from the fact that the baby is partially born, is in the process of being delivered ... Here is this child, who is literally inches away from being born, who would otherwise be born alive.” Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, the only doctor in the Senate, later concluded the debate by describing the procedure as “destroying the body of a mature unborn child.” President Bush stated in this year’s State of the Union address that ban would “protect infants at the very hour of their birth.”

Six months is a bit more than “inches away from being born.” Granted, time has no inherit unit of measuring distance, but Senator Santorum’s statement was nonetheless misleading. The statements by Majority Leader Frist and President Bush were a bit off as well.

The most vocal statements against the procedure rest on the timing of the procedure, tugging on the heartstrings of Americans and the common name of the procedure. How late is too late?

It has been argued that a woman must surely know she is pregnant within the first trimester, and should be able to make the decision within that frame of time. Although the pro-life camp may cast a woman receiving an abortion as callous, some women actually struggle with the decision to abort. Some couples wait years to decide to have a child, but the decision to not have a child must be restricted to nine weeks?

Even if a woman has decided to get an abortion, the practicality of that decision is severely limited outside the urban setting. I am most familiar with Georgia statistics, so I’ll use these numbers as examples. The state of Georgia has a population of over 8 million people, covers 57,900 square miles, and has 20 abortion clinics among a few urban centers. To say that rural women are inconvenienced by this is an understatement; many women, those without access to transportation, literally cannot get an abortion within their first trimester, forcing them to one of the handful of clinics in Atlanta offering second and third trimester abortions. The severity of this problem launched the Georgia Volunteer Driver Network, which does exactly what the name says -- volunteer drivers pick up women, drive them to clinics, and bring them home after the procedure.

I have my subjective feelings towards abortion just like everyone else, but when the partial birth abortion ban issue came up, it sounded pretty reasonable. Aside from the pro-life and pro-choice booths that I passed on my way to class, the ban passed without many even noticing it. My feelings have changed greatly since deciphering the name of the ban.

It’s unfortunate that in a clash of ethics, the “moral” side of the abortion debate is not presenting itself as such.