The Playbook on Partial-Birth Abortion

by Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq.

November 14, 2003

They used to be more candid.

Abortion advocates could not always be relied on to toe the old party line -- "Who decides?" Sometimes they'd forget themselves, stick to the subject, and say something truthful.

Like Faye Wattleton of Planned Parenthood, who in 1997 said: "Any pretense that abortion is not killing is a signal of our ambivalence, a signal that we cannot say yes, it kills a fetus but it is the woman's body, and therefore ultimately her choice."

Or Frances Kissling of "Catholics" for a Free Choice: "I agree that the way in which the arguments for legal abortion have been made include this inability to publicly deal with the fact that abortion takes a life."

Or Ron Fitzsimmons of the National Abortion Federation: "It is a form of killing. You're ending a life."

On November 5 the President signed into law the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act. Abortion advocates are arguing against the law in courts, and in the court of public opinion, where a variation of the party line has emerged. So far the players are sticking close to the book.

NARAL Pro-Choice America aired television ads set in a doctor's office, the camera focusing on a closed door as a voiceover says: "President Bush just signed the first federal law that will criminalize safe medical procedures . . . Once government is in the door, who knows what they'll do next?"

Steve Neal of the Chicago Sun-Times was right on message: "What right does Bush have to come between a woman and her doctor and her constitutional rights?"

On PBS's "Newshour," University of Cincinnati obstetrics professor Dr. Paula Hillard didn't even try to be subtle in driving home the party line: "What I would say, first of all, is that this bill is incredibly deceptive. I think American women will be absolutely outraged when they realize what this bill really says and what it will do. And what it will do is to place the government between a woman and her physician." And later, like a good little soldier: "Once again I would bring us back to the issue of the government getting between the relationship between an individual woman and her physician."

So, partial-birth abortion is no longer an abortion, it is a relationship. And the ban on the practice is not a law overwhelmingly passed by elected representatives of both parties. The ban is the Big Bad Government or even President Bush himself, standing there in the doctor's office, getting in the way of the relationship.

When you think about it (but therein lies the problem, too often), many laws come to mind that protect us from bad things happening in the doctor's office, such as the one protecting brand new moms from being hurried out of the hospital after delivery.

But there is no reason to get caught up in these diversionary tactics.

We have a winning approach of our own, and it is surprisingly simple: "The best case against partial-birth abortion is a simple description of what happens and to whom it happens," said President Bush when he signed the partial-birth ban.

Indeed it is. In Latin, we say res ipsa loquitur: The thing speaks for itself.

Cathy Cleaver Ruse, Esq. is the director of planning and information for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities.