PRESIDENT RONALD Reagan has come out in support of the Human Life Bill, which is the latest ploy by the antiabortionists to get around the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalizing abortions. In so doing, Reagan has aligned himself, not with a search for moderation and conciliation in a menacingly divisive national debate, but with a horde of biological storm troopers whose invasion of Americans' privacy should be of mounting concern to every reasonable citizen.
They are no longer satisfied with banning the use of federal funds for abortions, an area in which they have an arguable interest in that it involves taxpayers' money. The antiabortionists have gone far beyond that -- to the point where they are actually debating with the fanatical zeal of true believers whether their "Human Life" legislation ought to contain language allowing an exception to the ban on abortions if the procedure is necessary to prevent the death of a woman.
The antiabortion bill is different from the antiabortion constitutional amendment in that it requires only a majority of both houses to become law, as opposed to a two-thirds vote of both houses required to send an amendment to the states for ratification. The purpose of both is to ban abortions throughout the land. The bill would circumvent the Burger Supreme Court, which defined persons as those who have been born, by redefining "persons" to include fetuses and extending to them the right not to be deprived of life without due process of law contained in the 14th Amendment.
Hard-liners in the movement do not even want to legislate abortions to save the life of the mother if she has an ectopic pregnancy or a cancerous uterus, saying that to do so would open the door for other medical exceptions. Such procedures aren't actually abortions anyway, argues Notre Dame Law School professor Charles E. Rice, since the death of the fetus is an "unintended effect of an operation independently justified by the necessity of saving the mother's life." They are "moral even under Catholic teaching," he notes in a minority report on this controversy published in the Right to Life News. The majority report argues that stipulating the exceptions in the law is the best way of limiting abortions to those instances.
In case anyone is wondering what role religion pays in this debate, here is how Rice concludes his report: "The abortion rulings of the Supreme Court are not primarily wrong because they misinterpreted the Constitution. Rather they are wrong in their essence because they deny the reality that innocent life is nonnegotiable simply because it comes from God."
"There can be," concludes Rice, "No compromise on abortion.
If the antiabortionists have a disagreement on one area, they are firmly in agreement on another, which is that these Human Life bills and amendments define life as beginning from the moment of fertilization and that all the the constitutional protections that go to the mother, for example, extend to the fertilized egg. This means that something microscopic, something totally incapable of surviving on its own, would be entitled to all the protections that a woman is. Something not too far removed from the gleam in the father's eye would have the same rights as the father.
At last Friday's press conference, Reagan said he was not opposed to contraception. Asked to clarify his remarks, her merely elaborated on abortion to the extent that no one listening could figure out where he stands. His allies, however, are making it very clear that they oppose certain popular forms of contraception. In an "open letter" to members of Congress, Judie Brown, president of the American Life Lobby, argues that birth control pills that make the uterus "hostile to a fertilized egg" kill a "brand new human being." The intrauterine device, which prevents the egg from implanting in the uterus, "kills a brand new human being." "Chemicals and devices which kill are not contraceptives," she writes. "They perform abortions!"
A 1980 survey by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago shows that the vast majority of Americans believe abortions should be legal under certain circumstances. Eighty percent or more of those polled favor abortion if there is evidence of serious defect in the fetus, if the mother's health (not to mention her life) is endangered, or the mother becomes pregnant due to rape.More that 40 percent believe abortion should be legal if the woman simply doesn't want any more children, if she can't afford another child or if she is unmarried.
The overwhelming majority of Americans, according to that poll, have decided that there should be compromise in the area of abortion and that there is justification for striking a balance between the welfare of the mother and the continued existence of a fetus. Instead of leading a search for that balance, of helping the nation find a consensus, Reagan has lent the weight of the White House to a group of uncompromising fanatics who are seriously out of step with what the majority of Americans are thinking. Six weeks after swearing to "protect, preserve and defend the Constitution of the United States," Ronald Reagan has officially joined forces with those who are trying to subvert the constitutional amendment process and a Supreme Court ruling in order to get their way.