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Congress Should Pass Public Funding for Abortion in the First Trimester

By       Message Thomas Farrell       (Page 1 of 1 pages)     Permalink    (# of views)   No comments

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Certain Democrats in Congress have proposed an amendment to the health care bill that would limit public funding for abortions to three circumstances: (1) if the mother's life was in danger, (2) if the pregnancy was the result of incest, and (3) if the pregnancy was the result of rape. But why should public funding for legal abortions in the first trimester be restricted at all? After all, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion in the first trimester. Here we go again with Christian antiabortion subversives opposing legalized abortion and public funding for legalized abortion. But public funding has supported the war in Iraq, despite the fact that many tax-paying patriotic Americans have opposed that war from the outset. If conscientious objections to the war in Iraq cannot be used to stop public funding for the war in Iraq, then why should some conscientious objections to public funding for abortion during the first trimester be allowed to stop public funding for abortions in the first trimester?

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortions in the first trimester should be supported by public funding. It should be the woman's call if she wants to terminate her pregnancy during the first trimester. As a result, abortion during the first trimester should be available legally on demand to women who request it, and it should be funded by public funding, just as the war in Iraq is funded by public funding despite the conscientious objections of many patriotic Americans. But let's examine the three exceptions that certain Democrats have proposed.
It should be a no-brainer that abortion should be allowed to save the mother's life. But the male patriarchy preferred by some Americans would forbid even this exception. Evidently, the people who favor no exceptions would prefer to see both mother and fetus die, rather than allow the fetus to be aborted to save the mother's life. We should be grateful to see that the Democrats in question are willing to allow public funding for abortion to save the mother's life. In addition, the Democrats in question would allow exceptions for cases of pregnancy due to incest and rape. In cases of statutory rape, the girl has not yet reached the age of consent as defined by law. In cases of nonstatutory rape, the woman has not consented to have intercourse, but has been forced. The common element in both kinds of rape is a lack of consent. But the implication is that if a woman of legal age has consented to have intercourse, then she has become pregnant voluntarily. Moreover, her voluntary pregnancy somehow cancels her right to public funding for an abortion during the first trimester, even though the 1973 Supreme Court ruling legalized abortion during the first trimester. It's her body, so it should be her call if she wants to have an abortion during the first trimester, and abortion during the first trimester should be supported by public funding so that one part of the legal system (funding) supports another part of the legal system, legalized abortion in the first trimester.

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But let us be clear here.

The 1973 Supreme Court ruling that legalized abortion in the first trimester was revolutionary. It was revolutionary not only because it overturned many state laws that outlawed abortion, but also because it challenged male patriarchy. Arguably the 1973 legalization of abortion in the United States is the single greatest blow against male patriarchy that the world has seen thus far. As a result, it is not surprising that many Americans have joined antiabortion protests since 1973. Before that 1973 ruling, most Americans had been born and raised under male patriarchy. Male patriarchy was ubiquitous. It was inescapable. In the years since that 1973 ruling, the all-male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church has emerged in the vanguard of the Christian antiabortion movement in the United States. Catholic school children had long been taught that abortion is supposedly intrinsically evil, except for certain exceptions -- namely, the exceptions mentioned above. For this reason alone, the all-male Catholic hierarchy could probably be expected to protest that 1973 ruling.

However, at the time the all-male hierarchy was already defending the Catholic Church's teaching authority against objections to Pope Paul VI's 1968 encyclical known by its Latin title "Humanae Vitae." In that encyclical Pope Paul had renewed the Catholic Church's ban on all forms of artificial contraception. To this day, many American Catholics object to that ban and report they are not observing it. In light of the controversy over that 1968 encyclical, the 1973 Supreme Court ruling gave the all-male hierarchy the opportunity to rally American Catholics to protest against legalized abortion. Many American Catholics rallied with the all-male hierarchy to protest legalized abortion. As a result, many American Catholics who had previously voted to support Democratic candidates started voting to support Republican candidates because they claimed to be against abortion.

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Ironically, the reasoning used to ban all forms of artificial contraception is also used to ban abortion, except in the cases mentioned above. As a result, if you object to the ban on artificial contraception, you probably should also object to the ban on abortion (except for the exceptions already mentioned). Let me explain why. The basic argument in "Humanae Vitae" states that married couples should not use any form of artificial contraception when they have sexual intercourse with one another. Now, we noted above that Catholic teaching about abortion being supposedly intrinsically evil. Even though the 1968 encyclical stops short of using this expression "intrinsically evil," the basic presupposition is tantamount to saying that all forms of artificial contraception are somehow supposedly intrinsically evil.

Next, we should examine the claim in the encyclical that sexual intercourse in marriage should be open to the creative action of God carried out through the natural actions of human reproduction. Nothing artificial should block God's natural creative act in bringing about human reproduction. But we may wonder why not. Evidently, many American Catholics have been wondering why not. But how many of those same American Catholics have seen how the reasoning about artificial contraception forms the conceptual framework for the all-male hierarchy's objections to legalized abortion? When you think of each act of conception as God's creative act, then it follows that it should be wrong to destroy the zygote or the embryo or that fetus, because each stage of the infrahuman lifeform represents the supposed creative act of God. In this way, the all-male hierarchy is at least consistent. But what about human consent? We saw above that the lack of consent is the all-important variable in defining rape. So isn't it rape for God to bring about human conception without the woman's consent to conception? And what about the married American Catholics who in practice reject the ban on artificial contraception? When you reject that ban, then you open the way to thinking about conception as involving the consent and cooperation of the human participants. God may have a determinative input.

But the final say rests with the humans involved. Because conception occurs in the woman's body, the woman should have the final say about carrying the zygote or the embryo or the fetus up to the first trimester. It's her body, so it should be her call, as the 1973 Supreme Court ruling contended. But this contention is revolutionary because it overthrows centuries of male patriarchy in establishing laws governing women and abortion.


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Thomas James Farrell is professor emeritus of writing studies at the University of Minnesota Duluth (UMD). He started teaching at UMD in Fall 1987, and he retired from UMD at the end of May 2009. He was born in 1944. He holds three degrees from Saint Louis University (SLU): B.A. in English, 1966; M.A.(T) in English 1968; higher education, 1974. On May 16, 1969, the editors of the SLU student newspaper named him Man of the Year, an honor customarily conferred on an administrator or a faculty member, not on a graduate student -- nor on a woman up to that time. He is the proud author of the book (more...)

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