2004 08 31
The Way It Was
Speaking of brilliance, there is an article in this month’s Mother Jones that exemplifies that characteristic. “The Way It Was”, by Eleanor Cooney, describes in stark and sometimes gory detail what it was like for America’s unintentionally pregnant girls and women before Roe.
Cooney recalls getting “knocked up” at 18:
There was nothing exciting or memorable or even interestingly sordid about the sex. I wasn’t raped or coerced, nor was I madly in love or drunk or high. The guy was another kid, actually younger than I, just a friend, and it pretty much happened by default. We were horny teenagers with nothing else to do.
Nature, the ultimate unsentimental pragmatist, has its own notions about what constitutes a quality liaison. What nature wants is for sperm and egg to meet, as often as possible, whenever and wherever possible. Whatever it takes to expedite that meeting is fine with nature. If it’s two people with a bassinet and a nursery all decorated and waiting and a shelf full of baby books, fine. If it’s a 12-year-old girl who’s been married off to a 70-year-old Afghan chieftain, fine. And if it’s a couple of healthy young oafs like my friend and me, who knew perfectly well where babies come from but just got stupid for 15 minutes, that’s fine, too.
In the movies, newly pregnant women trip, fall down the stairs, and “lose the baby.” Ah. If only it were that easy. In real life, once that egg is fertilized and has glided on down the fallopian tube, selected its nesting place, and settled in, it’s notoriously secure, behaves like visiting royalty. Nature doesn’t give a fig about the hostess’s feelings of hospitality or lack of them. If the zygote’s not defective, and the woman is in good health, almost nothing will shake it loose. Anyone who’s been pregnant and didn’t want to be knows this is so.
The rest of her story, and the contemporary details about what conservatives are nowadays doing in the euphemistic name of a “culture of life,” should be read by everyone, including our teenage sons and daughters. Especially important is the explication of the scope of the so-called “partial birth abortion” ban. If you thought that this was a ban solely on third-trimester, you believe exactly what the legislative proponents of the ban want you to believe.
What, you might ask, is “partial-birth” abortion? Most of us know that the term is not a medical one. Invented by the pro-life folks in the last decade or so, it’s a vague reference to “intact dilation and extraction,” or D&X. Introduced in 1992, D&X is a variation on a similar, well-established second- (and sometimes third-) term procedure-“dilation and evacuation,” or D&E-used after the fetus has grown too large to be vacuumed or scraped out in a simple D&C, or “dilation and curettage.”
In a D&E, the fetus is usually dismembered inside the uterus and extracted in pieces. Old obstetrics books from as far back as the 170Os have disquieting illustrations of the various tools of yore used for fetal dismemberment. Nowadays, powerful gripping forceps are used, making the procedure much less dangerous for the woman.
The D&X was developed with the same objective. An inherent hazard of D&E-aside from potential damage by the instruments themselves and the risk of leaving tissue behind, increasing the chances of infection-is that fetal bones begin to calcify at about 13 weeks. As they are broken up, the sharp bone ends can puncture, scrape, and perforate. Hence the “intact” dilation and extraction. The fetus is brought out whole instead of being pulled apart bit by bit. The head is punctured and then collapsed by suction or compression so that it will fit through the partially dilated cervix. The fetus is dead, but in one piece. This, specifically, is the procedure the PBAB has sought to criminalize-when the fetus is killed while its body is outside the uterus, therefore “partially born.”
Under the PBAB of 2003, a D&X would be permitted only to save the woman’s life or if the fetus is dead. It would require a girl who’d been impregnated by her uncle, father, or brother, and who, out of shame, ignorance, and fear had hidden her condition until it was obvious to the world, to carry the fetus to term and give birth. If a woman discovers, late in her pregnancy, that the fetus has, say, anencephaly-a brain stem but no actual brain-then she must carry it to term, give birth, and let it die on its own.
The beginning of the article can be read here, but you need either to have institutional electronic access or to buy the issue to read it all. I highly suggest you do that latter. Do not assume that the full force of the article can be got from the passages I’ve highlighted here.