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Women should be informed before they abort

By Kathleen Parker
Sunday, May 2, 2010; A17

When Bill Clinton said in 1992 that he wanted to make abortion safe, legal and rare, many Americans applauded. Even if one dismisses this as rhetoric, it is a sentiment shared by the large middle and provides nearly everyone a thread of hope.

But how does one get to "rare" in a sexualized world where choice is a sacrament? The only plausible answer is through education, but of what should that education consist? Most everybody over the age of 10 knows how to apply a condom these days. And moral education -- the kind that might suggest remorse over the ending of a life -- is frowned upon.

My own view, both pro-life and pro-choice, has been that abortion truthfully presented would eliminate itself or vastly reduce its numbers. Once a pregnancy is viewed as a human life in formation, rather than a "blob of cells," it is less easy to terminate the contents of one's vessel.

An unwanted pregnancy isn't any less inconvenient, but humanizing a fetus confounds the simplicity of choice. Alternatively, dehumanizing as a means of justifying an action from which we prefer to avert our eyes is a well-traveled road that history does not view charitably.

Such considerations recently have taken the form of legislation in several states where lawmakers want women considering an abortion first to view an ultrasound. Oklahoma passed a law a few days ago that would require women to have an ultrasound, though, contrary to early reports, they are not required to view the images. They would have to hear the doctor's description of the images on the screen under the law.

Florida passed its own legislation Friday, and Louisiana is considering a similar bill.

Reaction to the Oklahoma law has been predictable. Pro-lifers think it's too weak; pro-choicers think it's untenably intrusive. Were women required to view the images of their fetuses, I would have to side with the pro-choicers on this point. It is still vexing that a woman must deliberately look away from the image, which adds some heft to the intrusive argument and could be viewed as intimidation.

That said, I can't muster outrage over what can be viewed as both medically pragmatic and morally defensible.

A well-informed patient should always be our route to safe and legal. Is it unacceptable that a life-preserving decision might result from greater knowledge?

Anyone considering, say, gall bladder removal will be told each and every detail of what will happen, what is likely to be the result, what consequences might be expected and so on. Doesn't it make as much sense to provide women with a view of what's going on inside their bodies before they take the leap that can't be undone?

Obviously, pro-lifers are trying to curb abortions through this legislation. The pro-life Bioethics Defense Fund drafted Louisiana's S.B. 528 at the request of its sponsor, state Sen. Sharon Broome, and the Louisiana Right to Life Federation. Call it a tactic, if you will. But is a woman's changed heart such a terrible result? Wouldn't such a result bring welcome numbers to the "rare" in Clinton's equation?

In testimony before the Louisiana Senate Health and Welfare Committee, women who had had abortions recounted being told they were ridding themselves of "tissue," only to learn later, often during ultrasounds with subsequent pregnancies, that they had destroyed fully formed fetuses.

From what I can tell based on my own conversations with post-abortive women, this is a common event and is often the point at which formerly pro-choice women switch sides.

The testimony in Louisiana included the story of one woman who suffered both physical and emotional trauma after an abortion. She didn't see an ultrasound but did see the remnants of her abortion on a tray beside her and was told "they" had been twins.

Well, enough of that. We all know what abortion is, and, thanks to some of the sign-toting anti-abortion protesters -- who do their cause no good -- we know what abortion looks like. Shouldn't pregnant women also know what their healthy fetuses look like before they hit delete?

This is a question lacking in sinister intent. What is sinister is the proposition that ignorance is better -- and the implied hope that women won't choose to reconsider.

I can't speak to the efficacy of these bills. Let the doctors and lawyers hash that out. But as an advocate for informed choice, I can't rationalize ignorance or denial as preferable options for women in need of sound counseling.

Or for a nation that wants to make abortion rare.

kathleenparker@washpost.com

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