The U.S. House of Representatives voted last week to eliminate federal funding for Planned Parenthood, which provides abortions, along with a variety of health care services for women. (The federal funding was allocated for family planning and health care, not abortion.) The Virginia General Assembly last week approved legislation that requires abortion clinics to be regulated as hospitals, and providers say the stricter regulations will force many of them out of business. Both measures were pushed by anti-abortion activists. Should personal and religious views be allowed to prevent women from having access to a legal medical procedure?
Few policy issues are as polarized as abortion. The strong and categorical moral claims of partisans on both sides allow virtually no room for compromise. But it seems that there are some basic and common-sense adjustments to the way abortions are performed that have broad popular support. It is a shame that radicals on both sides have resisted them in service to the purity of their cause.
Surely the idea of regulating abortion facilities as we regulate other medical facilities should be uncontroversial. You can’t get a boil lanced or a mole removed unless your medical care provider has jumped through innumerable hoops designed to ensure the safety of her patients. But a woman can have major surgery–which abortion is–without such protections.
Recently federal and local authorities cracked down on a Philadelphia abortion provider whose practices endangered (and, in some cases, ended) the lives of the women who came to him for abortions. The grand jury report is not for the faint of heart or weak of stomach; virtually every page details practices no civilized society should consider permissible.
I have no doubt that the vast majority of abortion providers follow commonly accepted protocols, but I have no doubt that most other medical professionals do as well. It’s the ones that don’t that necessitate the regulations that have to be followed by everybody.
Certainly many abortion opponents favor this law because they see it as a way to make it more difficult and costly to practice abortion, and thus make the procedure less common. In much the same way prohibitions on smoking in restaurants really are less about workplace safety for bartenders and waitresses than they are about reducing smoking. Everyone who objects to a law because his opponent is using it as a stalking horse for a larger agenda will find himself needing to oppose virtually every piece of legislation proposed.
I am pro-life, and I do believe that however safely an abortion facility is run each procedure performed will prove deadly for one of the people involved. But when I consider the question of regulating abortion providers, I really don’t think that’s what’s driving me. Crazy as it sounds, I just think as a citizen (not to mention as the father of two girls) that I want my society to make sure people aren’t practicing medicine in an unsafe manner.
As our society continues to debate the issue, we certainly don’t need to wait until we reach consensus on the broader question of their morality to agree on some improvements to current practices. This is what happened with the ban on partial-birth abortions, and this is what I sincerely hope happens with the full regulation of abortion providers.