Happy Anniversary for millions never born

Posted: Jan 22, 2003 12:00 AM
On the 30th anniversary of Roe vs. Wade, activists on both sides of the abortion divide are re-evaluating strategies and sketching new lines in the sand. Abortion advocates are worried. They see deception, trickery and threats to women's rights in recent maneuverings of the Bush administration. Bush has redefined "fetuses" as "children" in some federal regulations and promises to sign into law a bill banning "partial-birth abortions." Abortion foes, meanwhile, see signs of hope - and life - in a decline in abortion rates as well as recent polls showing that Americans are wavering in their support for abortion. A Wirthlin Worldwide poll taken last month found that almost 70 percent of Americans favor "restoring legal protection for unborn children." Other recent surveys show a decline in abortions. In 2000, for instance, abortions were at their lowest rate since 1974. The Alan Guttmacher Institute reported in the January/February edition of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health that in 2000 there were 21.3 abortions per 1,000 women age 15 to 44, down from 29.3 in 1980. While researchers try to figure out why abortion rates are dropping and pundits try to spin why Americans favor protecting the unborn, I'd like to take a modest stab at the answer: education and technology. Not moral preaching or punitive measures; not fetus lapel pins or gory roadside posters. But self-direction among people of conscience informed by technology and empowered by education. Because of technology - the ability to photograph, observe, engage and operate on in utero fetuses at various stages of development - people are not as likely to see a developing human as a "cluster of cells" or a "blob." That's precisely why pro-life activists want to incorporate 3-D ultrasounds into their arsenal, and why pro-choice advocates want to block them. Thomas Glassner, president and founder of the National Institute of Family Health and Life Advocacy is unapologetic about his intents and purposes: "We are going to see a decreasing number of abortions nationwide because of the efforts of pregnancy health centers providing medical services, including ultrasound, to empower women who are considering abortion to choose life." But pro-choice advocates say offering such services constitutes "intimidation." Now why would that be? Why is it intimidation to say, "Before you have an abortion, we want you to have all available information so you can make an informed decision"? If a woman sees a 10-week-old fetus inside her, which is to say an identifiable developing human, and elects to carry the baby to term, how is that a bad thing? This is where the so-called pro-choicers lose me and, I think, their credibility. Shouldn't choice be informed? Isn't feminism all about empowerment? And isn't knowledge the ultimate source of power? Indeed, 90 percent of abortion-bound women change their minds after seeing their own ultrasound image, according to NIFLA research. These women no doubt realize vividly that what they have inside them is not a cluster of cells, but a live, developing human being with hands, feet, fingers, toes, a double-lobed brain, identifiable sex organs and a very beating heart. If knowledge prevents ending such life, then maybe we have our answer to the abortion dilemma. Why is it so repugnant to accept that, knowing more now, we may have been wrong in our initial embrace of abortion? The fact that newer technology permits greater insight than we had back in 1973 when Roe vs. Wade was passed as a privacy issue should be a welcome development, even if it forces us to re-examine our beliefs and policies. Because self-examination is painful and uncomfortable - and often as inconvenient as an unwanted pregnancy - we recoil and avert our eyes. Technology no longer permits us to look the other way, to pretend that abortion does not end a life. The solution to abortion, of course, is prevention, and the key to prevention is education. Meanwhile, pro-choice advocates have a formidable foe when the "enemy" is life itself.