The approval by Arkansas' Legislature on Wednesday of the nation's most restrictive abortion law raises a lot of questions. No, I don't mean the usual questions about when life begins or whether the government has a right to intrude in such an intensely personal decision; I don't presume to be able to answer those, nor could anybody do so in a way that would satisfy true believers on the other side.
Mine are reserved for the state legislators: Have you guys really thought this thing through?
The new Arkansas law, which came to fruition only after both houses overrode a veto of the bill by Democratic Gov. Mike Beebe, makes it illegal to abort a fetus 12 weeks or older that has a heartbeat, except in a medical emergency. Meanwhile, even women decisive enough to meet the early deadline must submit to an ultrasound before the procedure, presumably so they can take a last look at the face -- well, misshapen skull -- of the potential person they're about to terminate.
The bill is a direct violation of the Supreme Court's Roe vs. Wade decision, which says abortions can be banned only after a fetus would be able to survive on its own outside the womb, generally defined as 23 weeks.
Hence my first question: Do you really think you're going to get away with this? The Supreme Court would have to overturn Roe vs. Wade, or establish an entirely new viability standard, in order to give Arkansas what it wants. That's not going to happen.
We're all used to this kind of thing by now, of course; the battle over abortion has long been a skirmish of symbolic gestures, with states passing laws they know will get nowhere in order to throw red meat to the locals and protest what they see as federal intrusion. But Arkansas is stepping so far over the line that I wonder if even its authors can take it seriously. And if not, don't they have better things to do with their time?
Second question: It's the usual position of abortion opponents that life begins with conception. Again, I don't want to get into the accuracy of that presumption. But if that's what one really believes, what difference do 11 weeks make? In other words, if abortion is murder, is it a lesser murder if committed under 12 weeks after conception rather than 23? Otherwise, what's the point of this law?
Third question: Unplanned pregnancies are often traumatic, confusing or terrifying for women, who sometimes don't even discover they're pregnant until months after conception. Will forcing them to rush what may be the most important decision of their lives lead them to make better decisions? I'm purely speculating here, but I think it will make them choose abortion more often rather than less; with little time to consider the options or get used to the idea of becoming a mother, it may be simpler and more painless to just terminate the problem.
Those more versed in the abortion debate can doubtless come up with more questions than I've listed here. Meanwhile, now that they've gotten over its their of partisan rancor, I hope the members of Arkansas' Legislature can get on with the actual business of running their state.
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