What's the Difference?

Fr. Frank Pavone Comments on Stenberg vs. Carhart Supreme Court Decision

Fr. Frank Pavone
National Director, Priests for Life
Publication Date: June 28, 2000

On June 28, the Supreme Court again ruled on abortion, and again showed how out of step its rulings on this subject are with the will of the American people. In the case of Stenberg vs.Carhart, the Court ruled that a Nebraska law banning partial birth abortion is unconstitutional. The partial birth abortion procedure, in the words of the court, "involves removing the fetus from the uterus through the cervix 'intact,'…[after which] the doctor pulls the fetal body through the cervix, collapses the skull, and extracts the fetus through the cervix."

In a civilized society, this shouldn't happen to human offspring. In fact, it shouldn’t happen to a dog.

The ruling of the Court was a 5-4 vote, a fact that abortion supporters say makes them nervous. It should, not only because of the slim majority, but because of the fact that this decision, by Justices who are not elected, contradicts the will of the people expressed in over half of the state legislatures. Moreover, Congress has examined and voted to ban this procedure by overwhelming majorities repeatedly in the last five years. Opinion polls consistently reveal that large majorities of the public want to ban partial-birth abortion. This decision has also contradicted its own ruling in Planned Parenthood vs. Casey (1992) which gave much more authority to the states to regulate and, under certain conditions, prohibit abortion, than the current decision admits.

Abortion supporters say they don't want the government making medical decisions. But banning partial-birth abortion is the government preventing the abuse of medicine. Shouldn't medical procedures be governed by moral principles? This is not about politicians practicing medicine, but about public servants protecting human lives.

The majority in Stenberg vs. Carhart fear that Nebraska's law is too broad, not sufficiently distinguishing the partial-birth abortion procedure from the "D and E" procedure, in which the child is dismembered in the process of his/her removal from the mother's body.

Wow! God forbid that we should ban too much violence. This is like a discussion about whether it should be legal to shoot someone in the heart but not in the head, all the while ignoring the problem of shooting.

The discussion which the Court undertook, however, which required a detailed explanation of the procedures and their variations, is a strong educational victory for the pro-life movement. No longer can it be denied in America that abortions are occurring in large numbers in the late stages of pregnancy. No longer can abortion be discussed only in terms of abstract concepts of "choice" and "rights." The very text of this Supreme Court decision details the dismemberment of children and the evacuation of their brains.

The Court also rules that Nebraska's ban is faulty because it does not allow an exception for the "health of the mother."

First of all, nobody, the Court included, has ever identified a medical condition for which partial-birth abortion is the only remedy. The fact of the matter is that banning partial-birth abortion does not deprive any woman of safe ways to handle complications of pregnancy, nor of what abortion supporters would call a "safe abortion."

Moreover, the Court has held since 1973 that the "health exception" involves emotional factors, family concerns, and the woman's age. The decision, furthermore, about whether her health requires the abortion would be made by none other than the abortionist himself - the same abortionist being paid for the procedure. As Justice Thomas pointed out, this would be "an exception that swallows the rule."

Abortion decisions impact more than the woman herself. They obviously kill a child in a way that even the Court's majority admits is "gruesome." Such practices also impact our whole society. This is perhaps best reflected by the teen who, when convicted of shooting people, defiantly replied, "Hey, you kill them in the womb, I kill them on the street. What's the difference?"

What is the difference, indeed?

See a press release from the National Pro-Life Religious Council

Priests for Life
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