May 3, 2007

Cornell Reacts to Partial-Birth Abortion Ban

Print More

Many cries were heard on campus on April 18 when the Supreme Court voted to uphold the 2003 Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Whether these cries were triumphant or indignant, many Cornellians had an opinion on the ruling and how it will affect students in the future.
In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court upheld the ban on the medical procedure known as ‘intact dilation and extraction.’ This procedure is usually carried out in the third trimester of pregnancy. The ban provides an exception when the life of the mother is in danger.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg ’54 wrote the dissent for the decision, in which she called the ruling “alarming” and said that “the court offers flimsy and transparent justifications” for its decision.
“I consider it highly insulting that Ginsburg’s idea of full citizenship for women necessitates acceptance of murdering innocent unborn, or in this case partially-born, children,” said Tristen Cramer, President of the Cornell Coalition for Life.
“She attempted to make the ruling more a matter of sexism and oppression rather than a serious debate about the legality and morality of a highly disputed, so-called ‘medical’ practice.”
Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote for the majority, notably using words such as “child” and “infant” when describing what others prefer to call a fetus.
“People are largely fighting about what it symbolizes, not the procedure itself,” said government Professor Jeremy Rabkin ’74. “Kennedy’s [use of language in the] majority opinion changed the frame of reference for this debate.”
Though the decision sparked much controversy and discussion, the procedure it bans is not very prominent in the United States: According to The Guttmacher Institute, there were approximately 2,200 intact dilation and extraction abortions in the year 2000 out of more than 1.3 million abortions overall.
Nonetheless, a rally is scheduled for today on Ho Plaza to protest the decision and raise awareness for the pro-choice cause. The rally will feature discussion on this issue including speakers from Students Acting for Gender Equality (SAGE) and Planned Parenthood.
“We think that it is important that people come out and educate themselves about this issue,” said Adriane Bracciale ’07, Co-President of SAGE. “Hateful [pro-life] organizations quote each other relentlessly, but we want people to see the facts for themselves.”
There are currently 26 states that ban partial birth abortion throughout pregnancy, 18 of which have been held up by courts. New York does not have such a ban.
While Gannett does not offer abortion services, local doctors and clinics offer surgical abortions.
“The new ban does not change the services that we currently offer,” said Natasha Keller, educator for Planned Parenthood of the Southern Finger Lakes.
“We did not offer partial-birth abortions before, so the options open to young women are still the same at our clinics.”

On April 25, Governor Eliot Spitzer announced plans to introduce new legislation regarding abortion in the state. The bill, the Reproductive Health and Privacy Protection Act, would update New York’s current law on abortion. The current law dates back to 1970, three years before the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision that legalized abortion.
The new legislation would not be able to supersede the Supreme Court’s recent decision.
“Although we are lucky in New York, I hope that Cornell students know how close to home this really hits,” said Bracciale. “It needs to be about health and women’s lives. Morality can not get tangled in the issue.”
For now, students, doctors and policy makers alike are waiting to see what effect this decision will have on abortion law in the future.
“This decision set a precedent, and I think we will continue to see this trend in the future,” said Keller. “People who are in school currently [like Cornell students] are likely to see the effects in their many years to come.”
While some Cornell students may feel removed from the issue, it is still an issue that will affect them in the future.
“This debate has only been gaining momentum over the past few years,” said Cramer. “Although I obviously cannot predict what the future holds, I do hope that in the end, we will have legislation that values and protects both women and their unborn children.”
In the end, some stress that the significance of this decision rests in its indication that the pro-life and pro-choice debate is here to stay.
“This is not only a debate for past generations,” said Rabkin. “This is a debate that was controversial in the past and will continue to be in the future. College students need to know that this is not going to go away. Perhaps 30 years ago, if the Court had known that this much controversy would remain [about Roe v. Wade], they may not have made the decision that they did.”