20 April 2007
a sad day for women and the people who love them
brief background: on wednesday, the supreme court finally ruled on a drawn-out case challenging the constitutionality of a congressional law banning a particular kind of abortion procedure -- what the law calls "partial birth abortion", which is a medical non-entity but for now we'll let that slide. it was the first case on whether congress can make a law concerning not whether but how to perform abortions. it's also the first time that justices have presumed to overrule physician consensus with their own opinions on medical risks. in a 5-to-4 ruling, the court upheld the law. anyway, here's the paste, edited as well as i could manage at the moment.
our server crashed overnight. we kept hoping it'd be back up but eventually gave up hope and resorted to doing all our appointment-taking on paper. so the schedule is a big fucking mess and we're going to have to take people at their word that they did indeed make an appointment with us and did indeed get the damn script read to them at least 24 hours in advance (which people have actually tried to bullshit us about, which is scary for us since it's the law and all).
and it also meant we didn't have internet, and the waiting-room tv doesn't have cable, so we found out that the aclu and planned parenthood lost their case against the congressional "partial birth abortion" ban, but then couldn't find out anything else about it because the news networks felt like talking about american idol instead of the supreme court. our manager had to go to kinko's to look up the text of the decision. and when we did figure it out the conclusions were fucking depressing.
the most obvious effect of the ruling is to let the ban stand. and, well, the ban itself is one thing -- a pain in the ass because clinics will have to scramble in the next 25 days to make sure they're doing things legally, and worrisome because its inept wording may extend to techniques beyond what's commonly described as "partial birth" abortion, and dangerous because sometimes the particular procedure people are het up about banning is much safer than the alternatives. but the wider effects are farther reaching and personally devastating; the text of the opinion puts to rest the entire contention that my health is important. kennedy basically tossed out the precedent that restrictions on abortions couldn't be detrimental to a woman's health.
my clinic doesn’t usually do intact dilation and extraction (IDX - the procedure that most closely maps to these assholes’ shitty excuse for a definition of “partial birth abortion”, and i wish people hammered that point a lot more), but when they do, it’s often because of something like fetal hydroencephaly -- a waterlogged skull -- and if they were to perform the standard, less-contested technique of dismembering the fetus and collapsing the skull before removal from the uterus (how that’s less “brutal” than the gory descriptions of IDX, i don’t know, which is another thing cluing me in to the utter disingenuousness at work), the water pouring out of the skull could rupture the uterus.
but forcing a woman to suffer such an injury is constitutional, because the woman is still alive. forcing a woman to go nearly blind) would likewise be constitutional. infertility, nerve damage, long-lasting blood pressure problems, no big deal. hemorrhaging? well, but you’re alive today, aren’t you?
also, in case anyone’s wondering, your options when fetal hydroencephaly is discovered are IDX, early csection, or uterotomy; the first allows a woman to have children at a later date if she wants to, the second makes it unlikely that she’ll be able to maintain future pregnancies (rupture again), and the third makes her so vulnerable to unstable and unsafe pregnancies that she’s advised to avoid pregnancy forevermore. prolifers are clearly in favor of lives, eh?
oh, more on "life". although the "health exception" is gone, the "life exception" (as in, still legal if it will save the woman's life) is still in place, but -- as both kennedy and, in her dissent, justice ruth bader ginsberg, recognized -- it doesn't really mean much in practice. if you have to prove to a judge that your life is in danger in order to obtain a waiver to protect the doctor who could otherwise be jailed for two years for performing your life-saving abortion -- or if you just fucking have to find a doctor who'll perform it, because they've all stopped doing so, might be rusty at it, haven't been passing on the skills to new doctors, etc -- you're probably going to die before anything gets accomplished. obviously. (speaking of medical training, did you know that only a third of medical schools in the country teach abortions of any sort?) yes, kennedy recognized this reality in his opinion -- and dismissed it because, in his estimation, it will affect a small number of women.
i feel afraid about it. and kind of sad, because of something paula (an older coworker) said; she said "if i were you all i'd be out in the streets right now". but nobody actually cares, i doubt most people even heard; so nobody's out there (and, you know, neither am i). and you know, short of a physical revolution, there's nothing that can be done: the supreme court has the final say on the law of the land, after all.
the only good thing about this situation is that the decision didn't get rushed out before november and we dont have an insane republican congress capitalizing on the outcome as soon as possible. at least not at the national level. but there's no telling what will happen in the states, and i'm scared.
of course it’s good to keep up hope, but some of the damage here may be irreversible (or inasmuch as stare decisis applies, which admittedly, judging by kennedy's explicit dismissal of precedent on wednesday, might not be much): the effects of this decision were much broader than just to allow the particular congressional “pba” ban to stand. it dismissed the “not if it threatens a woman’s health” caveat in the guidelines on abortion restrictions, meaning this case can easily be used to justify lots of other restrictions on abortion that don't technically cause death, i.e., used as a wedge to break up abortion rights in many other cases. my big fear is that plenty of states are going to jump on that bandwagon right away. (yay metaphors.)
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