A Compromise on Late-term Abortion

My wife and I voted for Sanders in the primary, and I kept an open mind about Trump as we watched the third presidential debate.  Trump declared that many late-term abortions were being performed,and objected strenuously.  I told my wife that I was surprised to hear that.  “Late-term” meant third-trimester to us, after twenty-four weeks.  We both thought that Congress had abolished late-term abortion years earlier with the partial-birth ban.  But, we hadn’t followed it closely.

After the debate, I searched the web to check the accuracy of Trump’s statement.  He was right.  The 2003 Partial Birth Ban only changed the mechanics of late term-abortion.  Basically, brain-suction was banned, and dismemberment largely took its place.  As a retired physician, I understood that even after twenty weeks, the developing human is responsive to pain, voices, and maternal emotions. A high percentage of infants born as early as thirty weeks survive and do well, given the sophistication of modern neonatal care.  As based on federal statistics, the number of late-term abortions is estimated to be at least ten thousand each year. That is more than one every hour.  Apart from the United States, only China, Vietnam, and a couple of other countries allow it. 

I continued my reading on the following day to understand the reasons for late-term abortion.  A credible study found that special circumstances -- rape, incest, deformity, genetic abnormality, maternal jeopardy -- were no more common in late-term abortions than earlier ones.  My wife, a nurse-practitioner who voted for Hillary, reacted decisively to this information.  She maintained that as a practical matter, six months should be long enough to decide about abortion, and if the decision were not made by then,  the recourse ought to be adoption.  She rightly asserted that by six months, the woman inevitably faces a major medical event, whether removal of a large fetus or delivery of a live infant.  This sounded reasonable to me, especially given the field’s very low threshold for caesarian-section. 

I spent several days thinking mostly about abortion. I weighed the morality, the biology, the real-life sadness of unwanted parenthood, and the psychological burdens of abortion.  I did find my answer, though.  Simply put, my heart and mind landed somewhere in the middle.  I accept -- with regret -- earlier abortions, but I definitely reject late ones, after the baby has a decent chance to live in the open air.  I decided that I really wanted to ban late-term abortion, more than any other political objective.

I studied the polls, and came away thinking that most Americans may see it the same way.  Certainly, there is little question where most persons stand on late-term.  A consistent, large majority reject late-term abortion, when asked about it specifically.  I saw that polls which only compare “pro-life” versus “pro-choice” don’t pick this up.  I broached the subject with family, friends, and neighbors.  Most, but not all, wanted a late-term ban.  One particularly intelligent friend denied late-term abortions were happening, but had no supportive data.  Some persons seemed to let Trump, the messenger, taint the message.  A very nice neighbor lady shouted that Trump was the one who should have been aborted.  End of conversation.

My friend from third grade -- more recently a college dean and Trump antagonist -- really hadn’t thought much about late-term.  But he did listen.  Months after our first conversations, he asked me for more information.  Very recently, he told me that he agreed completely with my goals.  We support concrete actions by Governor John Kasich in Ohio.  He signed a “Pain” ban after twenty weeks, but vetoed a “Heartbeat” ban at six weeks.  My friend and I live in states with late-term abortion, and we want a federal law to change that.

Jeff Merkley is my senator, and I voted for him, once.  Shortly after the inauguration, I attended his town hall in Medford, Oregon.  I wanted to ask him to promote a national compromise on abortion.  The venue, a basketball gym, was packed with voters angry about Trump.  It reminded me of a college basketball game in Tucson many years prior. The anger towards a seemingly biased official was intense and prolonged, such that one poor fan succumbed to a coronary, not far from where I was seated.  As the surrounding anger about Trump fed on itself, I couldn't help but think about CPR, and the relationship between extreme anger and the inability to process facts. 

The senator did not call on me.  I joined the cluster around him after he spoke and found myself the last questioner.  With a big smile and firm handshake, I began by saying that we could be proud of our shared blue-collar roots.  I joked that perhaps some callouses yet remained on our hands from past manual labor, but his fixed and weary smile did not change.  When I told him I wanted to talk about late-term abortion, the smile inverted.  I questioned why the country needed to be so divided over abortion, and suggested a ban on late-term abortion as a path to common ground, because a large majority wanted it.

The senator shuffled his feet and looked over his shoulder.  I communicated what I learned from the third debate, and the late-term numbers, and the reasons-study.  I asked him to consider working with “pro-life” senators, towards a late-term ban, but also provisions for better early maternal care.  As he stepped backwards, I hurried to add that my wife and I adopted two babies.  I asked him to recognize that the number of couples desperate to adopt an infant, including infants with special needs, far exceeded the number lost to late-term abortions.  Finally, I said that there was money, both private and institutional, for more infant adoption.

The resulting dislike in the senator’s eyes was intense, bordering on hateful.  His voice rose as he pledged that he never would allow anything to come between a woman and her doctor.  That was it, one stock-phrase, the Mantra. His mantra dangled in the air, as he turned and walked away.  Driving home, I tried to erase his glare, indelible to this day.  I chuckled to myself about his soft hand and relieved my sadness over the failed communication with my own little game.  I divined where the callous on that hand had gone... Migrated to the heart, no doubt.  Poor Merkley.  Cardiac callous, quite common in The Swamp SyndromeHeh.

Fast forward to last week.  My wife had something interesting to tell me.  After forty years, I knew that the expression on her face presaged something either very funny or very sad.  She announced that Merkley had made the news.  I knew about his recent vote against mandatory medical support for infants who survive failed abortions, at any time, including labor at term. That wasn’t it, though.  She said that this time, he had crossed the aisle to sponsor a new bill.  The proposed law would make the USDA stop killing kittens used in medical research.  It would fund kitten adoptions, in safe, loving homes.

Funny or sad?   

My wife and I voted for Sanders in the primary, and I kept an open mind about Trump as we watched the third presidential debate.  Trump declared that many late-term abortions were being performed,and objected strenuously.  I told my wife that I was surprised to hear that.  “Late-term” meant third-trimester to us, after twenty-four weeks.  We both thought that Congress had abolished late-term abortion years earlier with the partial-birth ban.  But, we hadn’t followed it closely.

After the debate, I searched the web to check the accuracy of Trump’s statement.  He was right.  The 2003 Partial Birth Ban only changed the mechanics of late term-abortion.  Basically, brain-suction was banned, and dismemberment largely took its place.  As a retired physician, I understood that even after twenty weeks, the developing human is responsive to pain, voices, and maternal emotions. A high percentage of infants born as early as thirty weeks survive and do well, given the sophistication of modern neonatal care.  As based on federal statistics, the number of late-term abortions is estimated to be at least ten thousand each year. That is more than one every hour.  Apart from the United States, only China, Vietnam, and a couple of other countries allow it. 

I continued my reading on the following day to understand the reasons for late-term abortion.  A credible study found that special circumstances -- rape, incest, deformity, genetic abnormality, maternal jeopardy -- were no more common in late-term abortions than earlier ones.  My wife, a nurse-practitioner who voted for Hillary, reacted decisively to this information.  She maintained that as a practical matter, six months should be long enough to decide about abortion, and if the decision were not made by then,  the recourse ought to be adoption.  She rightly asserted that by six months, the woman inevitably faces a major medical event, whether removal of a large fetus or delivery of a live infant.  This sounded reasonable to me, especially given the field’s very low threshold for caesarian-section. 

I spent several days thinking mostly about abortion. I weighed the morality, the biology, the real-life sadness of unwanted parenthood, and the psychological burdens of abortion.  I did find my answer, though.  Simply put, my heart and mind landed somewhere in the middle.  I accept -- with regret -- earlier abortions, but I definitely reject late ones, after the baby has a decent chance to live in the open air.  I decided that I really wanted to ban late-term abortion, more than any other political objective.

I studied the polls, and came away thinking that most Americans may see it the same way.  Certainly, there is little question where most persons stand on late-term.  A consistent, large majority reject late-term abortion, when asked about it specifically.  I saw that polls which only compare “pro-life” versus “pro-choice” don’t pick this up.  I broached the subject with family, friends, and neighbors.  Most, but not all, wanted a late-term ban.  One particularly intelligent friend denied late-term abortions were happening, but had no supportive data.  Some persons seemed to let Trump, the messenger, taint the message.  A very nice neighbor lady shouted that Trump was the one who should have been aborted.  End of conversation.

My friend from third grade -- more recently a college dean and Trump antagonist -- really hadn’t thought much about late-term.  But he did listen.  Months after our first conversations, he asked me for more information.  Very recently, he told me that he agreed completely with my goals.  We support concrete actions by Governor John Kasich in Ohio.  He signed a “Pain” ban after twenty weeks, but vetoed a “Heartbeat” ban at six weeks.  My friend and I live in states with late-term abortion, and we want a federal law to change that.

Jeff Merkley is my senator, and I voted for him, once.  Shortly after the inauguration, I attended his town hall in Medford, Oregon.  I wanted to ask him to promote a national compromise on abortion.  The venue, a basketball gym, was packed with voters angry about Trump.  It reminded me of a college basketball game in Tucson many years prior. The anger towards a seemingly biased official was intense and prolonged, such that one poor fan succumbed to a coronary, not far from where I was seated.  As the surrounding anger about Trump fed on itself, I couldn't help but think about CPR, and the relationship between extreme anger and the inability to process facts. 

The senator did not call on me.  I joined the cluster around him after he spoke and found myself the last questioner.  With a big smile and firm handshake, I began by saying that we could be proud of our shared blue-collar roots.  I joked that perhaps some callouses yet remained on our hands from past manual labor, but his fixed and weary smile did not change.  When I told him I wanted to talk about late-term abortion, the smile inverted.  I questioned why the country needed to be so divided over abortion, and suggested a ban on late-term abortion as a path to common ground, because a large majority wanted it.

The senator shuffled his feet and looked over his shoulder.  I communicated what I learned from the third debate, and the late-term numbers, and the reasons-study.  I asked him to consider working with “pro-life” senators, towards a late-term ban, but also provisions for better early maternal care.  As he stepped backwards, I hurried to add that my wife and I adopted two babies.  I asked him to recognize that the number of couples desperate to adopt an infant, including infants with special needs, far exceeded the number lost to late-term abortions.  Finally, I said that there was money, both private and institutional, for more infant adoption.

The resulting dislike in the senator’s eyes was intense, bordering on hateful.  His voice rose as he pledged that he never would allow anything to come between a woman and her doctor.  That was it, one stock-phrase, the Mantra. His mantra dangled in the air, as he turned and walked away.  Driving home, I tried to erase his glare, indelible to this day.  I chuckled to myself about his soft hand and relieved my sadness over the failed communication with my own little game.  I divined where the callous on that hand had gone... Migrated to the heart, no doubt.  Poor Merkley.  Cardiac callous, quite common in The Swamp SyndromeHeh.

Fast forward to last week.  My wife had something interesting to tell me.  After forty years, I knew that the expression on her face presaged something either very funny or very sad.  She announced that Merkley had made the news.  I knew about his recent vote against mandatory medical support for infants who survive failed abortions, at any time, including labor at term. That wasn’t it, though.  She said that this time, he had crossed the aisle to sponsor a new bill.  The proposed law would make the USDA stop killing kittens used in medical research.  It would fund kitten adoptions, in safe, loving homes.

Funny or sad?