Abortion Issue Clouds Presidential Politics
By WARREN M. HERN
THE U.S. SUPREME COURT decided in 1973 that the decision to have an abortion was a matter between a woman and her physician. The court held that the right of privacy guaranteed by the Constitution logically must include this most personal decision. Not even the state could intervene in the first six months of pregnancy except to protect the woman’s health during the latter half of this period.
It is a paradox that a personal freedom which derives from the right of privacy has become a volatile issue of public debate during this presidential campaign year. Neither major party candidate, if elected, could do much to prevent abortions from occurring or have much effect on women’s decisions to have them.
Mr. Ford has taken a “moderate” position on the subject of abortion, whatever that is. He thinks the Supreme Court went “too far” and favors a constitutional amendment which would return the governing of abortion decisions to the state legislature as it was during the 19th century.
Mr. Carter, taking pains to state his personal opposition to abortion, opposes nonetheless any constitutional amendment concerning abortion. He qualifies this qualification by encouraging those opposed to personal choice in this area to seek such an amendment. He yearns to please the Catholic hierarchy by opposing the use of public funds for abortions.
In Mr. Carter’s position there is some recognition of the difference between personal moral choice and public policy. This is a most important distinction, since it allows objective discussion of policy choices on their own merits.
However, the question of a constitutional amendment prohibiting abortion has no place in presidential political debate since it would require action by the Congress and state legislatures but not of the president.
That part of the debate which is concerned with the use of public funds to pay for abortions is more legitimate, since the president might be in a position to sign or veto such legislation.
jumped into the fray by passing an amendment to the Labor-HEW appropriations
bill which would prohibit the use of federal funds for abortion except when the
woman’s life clearly would be endangered by continuation of the pregnancy to
term. A careful reading of the language
of the Senate-House conference report on the amendment shows the congressional
intent as denying abortion as a form of treatment for a woman who has suffered
rape or incest. The only member of the
President Ford vetoed the labor-HEW appropriations bill but the veto was overridden and the abortion amendment became law. The next day, restraining orders against the amendment’s provisions were issued by federal courts in New York and Washington, D.C. (Seven federal courts have ruled state legislation similar to the amendment to be unconstitutional on grounds of violation of the equal protection clause of the Fourteenth Amendment.)
THE ISSUE OF PUBLIC funding for abortion services is a significant one because some 250,000 women obtain abortions each year through Medicaid payments, resulting in a public expenditure of $45-$50 million in federal monies alone.
The poor, of course, experience most of the health problems in our society due to lack of adequate medical care, nutrition, housing, hygiene, and education. The risks due to pregnancy experienced by women in this group are enormously increased over those of their more affluent sisters.
A woman with an unwanted pregnancy who has decided to get an abortion will have an abortion whether it is safe or unsafe, legal or illegal. Thousands of years of human history have shown that.
The question of public policy which emerges is this: why should the poor, who are in such vital need of a critical reproductive health service, be forced to experience the higher risks and mental anguish of unwanted pregnancy while the rich are free to choose?
The congress has
decided, and the two major presidential candidates agree, that there will be
two systems of reproductive health care in the
Aside from the blatant inequality and unfairness of the public policy set by Congress and espoused by the candidates, aside from the human and financial costs of withholding public support for abortion services, there are some other facts with which the politicians should familiarize themselves:
The author of this
opinion article is a