Abortion limits demean women


"The decision to have an abortion is never, ever easy," says Michele Douglas, a counselor with Planned Parenthood of Maryland Inc.

"Women do not make the decision to have an abortion as a matter of convenience," Douglas continues. "All women have compelling reasons in their lives to make the decision."

For example, there was the 27-year-old woman who discovered she had contracted HIV, which causes AIDS, from her partner. The woman had two children, a 10-year-old and an 18-month-old. Her partner was in the hospital. She herself had begun to show symptoms of acquired immune deficiency syndrome.

Even for this woman, the choice to have an abortion was not easy.

"This was a traumatic time for her," says Douglas. "Her whole life was turned upside down. But she asked a lot of questions about the [abortion] procedures. She asked a lot about alternatives and risks.

"In the end, she decided to have the abortion, partly because of the chance that the infant would have the disease. But partly also because of concerns about who would care for the child -- for all of her children -- after she and her partner were gone."

There was the 11-year-old who had gotten pregnant after being raped repeatedly by her stepfather for three straight hours. Police later discovered that the stepfather had once served an eight-year sentence for the rape and murder of two other women.

The little girl and her mother came to Planned Parenthood for counseling.

"Fifth-graders do not talk much when they have been raped," Douglas says grimly.

But Douglas very carefully made the little girl and her mother aware of their options. She asked the child questions to be sure she understood. But still, the choice to have the abortion was not an easy one.

And there was the woman who had planned the pregnancy with the father. They planned to get married. They envisioned a lifetime of happiness.

But the father was shot and killed when he was caught in the cross-fire of a drive-by shooting shortly after she got pregnant and about a month before their wedding.

"She was just so shattered by what had happened that she just felt she could not handle the pregnancy," says Douglas. "But it was a very difficult decision for her."

"These are extreme examples," admits Douglas, "but they are not aberrations."

"Each story is so unique that no one law can accommodate the vast array of decisions out there," says Douglas. "We must, we must respect a woman's ability to make an intelligent and mature decision."

Yesterday, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld Pennsylvania's right to lay down special conditions and restrictions on a woman's right to an abortion.

The restrictions seem rational: Pennsylvania requires that a woman be told of the medical procedures involved in an abortion and of her alternatives. The state requires that a woman be given at least 24 hours to think over her decision before the operation is done. And it requires that physicians file confidential reports with the state on all abortions performed.

Experts describe the ruling as the most significant modification of a woman's right to choose an abortion since that right was defined 19 years ago in the court's Roe vs. Wade decision.

Nevertheless, this society still cannot resolve whether abortion should be compared to murder or whether it should be likened to any other health-related operation.

That makes abortion a moral decision best decided by individuals after consultation with their conscience, their God and their loved ones.

But we seem unable to leave it at that.

Underlying all of Pennsylvania's provisions seems to be an easy, off-hand assumption that women cannot make such an important ethical, moral, even survival decision on their own.

Would we seek to overrule men this way? I doubt it.

I don't believe such a personal question could have generated such heat without an overriding image of women as irresponsible, incompetent, frivolous and childlike -- as inherently, congenitally unable to resolve such an important moral question on their own.

Last year, Planned Parenthood of Maryland counseled nearly 5,000 pregnant women that they could carry the baby to term, put it up for adoption or in foster care, or have an abortion. About 36 percent chose to have abortions.

You or I may not agree with the choices made. But women, like men, are God's creatures. They can handle tough moral decisions.

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