The latest Supreme Court ruling on the issue of abortion is only another stop-gap in the continuing debate, perhaps the most profound, in our public discussion of social issues.
The court has rule that Texas abortion clinics at risk of being closed by a restrictive state law will remain open and some of those shuttered will probably be able to reopen. But opponents of abortion said they plan to defend those laws in the interest of women’s health, while shifting to pursue new laws to protect fetal health.
We believe that while the court’s decision may have been judicious in itself, the whole concept of this important moral as well as political issue should not be decided in the courts.
The place to decide when, where and how abortion is to be permitted under the overall constitutional decision of the high court that it is a part of our freedom to choose is in the legislative assemblies. That might well be decided at the lowest possible level where those who take a personal and determined position on the issue are best heard.
Debates in the various state assemblies on how individual states should handle the problem are the best way to go forward. That is where we have to the best of our abilities in this democracy a hearing for the voice of the people.
The Texas law struck down by the courts reviewed the case of 41 abortion clinics before the law was with only 19 remaining. Ten more of these would have been forced to close had the high court allowed the law to stand.
Advocates of more tolerant abortion procedures expect some clinics to reopen, especially those in rural areas far from other providers. Nevertheless the reopening process is likely to be slowed by licensing, rebuilding and hiring. An organization advocating more liberal abortion law, the Guttmacher Institute, estimates that about half the women in the South live in counties without abortion clinics, 53% in the Midwest, with an overall 38% nationwide.
Five other states have enacted laws that require abortion clinics to meet ambulatory surgical center requirements like the Texas law. They are Michigan, Missouri, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Tennessee, where the law was temporarily blocked by a judge, according to the New York-based Center for Reproductive Right.
Advocates of more liberal abortion rights maintain that the requirements for health standards proposed by these laws are a subterfuge for banning or making abortion more difficult. They may well be right. But the fact remains that a high standard of health requirements for abortion clinics has to be maintained and that it might be argued, equally truthfully, that those demanding their abolition are indeed neglecting minimum women’s health standards.
The argument and its ensuing legal battles has hardly begun. Abortion opponents said they were searching for ways to defend laws similar to the Texas measure. They also plan to shift the focus of their debate to restricting access to abortion based on fetal health. An example of this approach might well be a 20-week abortion postponement based on fetal pain, or bans on second-trimester abortions they call “fetal dismemberment.”
These are complicated and delicate technical questions as well as posing moral isdelimmas for both the proponents and the opponents of abortion.
We believe that abortion, like all destruction of life in any form, is a critical moral issue and one that can only be treated with the most careful consideration. That, we believe, must be done by the largest part of our population that can be induced into participating in the debate. And that, we believe, requires that it be done at the lowest level of government and regulation, either the state, or even county and city government. Until that is done, judicial fiat is a continuing obstruction to justice in one of the most important moral issues of our time.