From Poland to Texas, from Chile via Indiana to Channel 4’s Dispatches, the issue of abortion seems to have recovered its political salience during the past year or so. People are talking about it in legislative assemblies and television studios. Sometimes they are marching in the streets again. But there has been a change in the way the debate is framed nowadays. The old “pro-choice” versus “pro-life” dichotomy has all but slipped from view as the issue has metastasised, giving rise to numerous secondary arguments. These can be as hotly contested as the fundamental principles at stake ever were.
Thus, in June, Texas saw its recently enacted abortion clinic regulations struck down by the US Supreme Court. What Texas had wanted to enforce were new rules requiring abortion providers to keep their premises safe and clean and to have arrangements in place for admitting patients to nearby hospitals in case a procedure went badly wrong.
The attempt to tighten up the rules had been prompted, at least in part, by the case of Kermit Gosnell, the Philadelphia-based abortionist who was sentenced to life imprisonment without possibility of parole in 2011 after being found guilty of multiple offences, including three counts of first degree murder, unlawfully performing late-term abortions and failing to maintain basic standards of hygiene and sanitation in his clinic.
Given how frequently the pro-abortion lobby has in the past cited the risk of infection posed by backstreet practitioners as a reason for permitting safe abortions within the law, you might think that Texas’s rule that clinics must be kept spick, span and sterile would have been uncontroversial.
Not a bit of it. Abortion rights activists claimed that the regulations posed an undue burden on clinics and that some would go out of business, thereby restricting access to abortion for local women. The Supreme Court agreed. Since the decision, Planned Parenthood has announced that it will now seek to strike down similar regulations in eight other jurisdictions, including Kermit Gosnell’s home state.
Also now heading towards the Supreme Court is an Indiana statute passed in March this year mandating the dignified disposal of foetal material. Once again the Gosnell case, along with allegations of a murky secondary trade in body parts from abortion clinics across America, had prompted legislators to act. And once again, you might think that dignified disposal could hardly be considered burdensome.
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