Tim Kane: Seeing through the smoke of abortion rights alarmism

This commentary is by Tim Kane, a musician who lives in Richmond.

When feminist author, columnist and poet Elayne Clift lends her respected voice to the reproductive rights conversation in Vermont, thoughtful citizens, no matter their position on abortion, should take note. 

In her recent commentary, “The urgency of saving Roe v. Wade,” she criticizes the recent trend of states enacting laws restricting access to abortion. Although Ms. Clift accurately asserts most of us want to keep Roe v. Wade in place, many of her other assertions are baseless. 

Ms. Clift states that Roe “protects a pregnant woman’s liberty to choose to have an abortion without excessive government restriction,” but one must venture beyond the first sentence of Wikipedia’s “Roe v. Wade” entry to fully understand the law. The court in Roe held that a pregnant woman’s constitutional right to privacy protects her right to choose abortion, but the right to choose is limited and balanced against the state’s interests in safeguarding women’s health and protecting unborn life. 

Roe is all about that balancing test, with the rights of the pregnant woman, the interests of the government and the rights of the unborn child all in the mix. The Planned Parenthood v. Casey ruling later upheld Roe but replaced its trimester framework for a different fetal viability standard. In Roe and its progeny, the Supreme Court makes it clear that the right to choose abortion, though fundamental, is not absolute.

A 2019 NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll indicates 75% of Americans are against overturning Roe v. Wade, but the devil is in the details. The poll also indicates 82% of us favor some restrictions on abortion rights, including 72% of those identifying as pro-choice and 72% of Democratic women. Most interestingly, 83% of all women, compared to 82% of all men polled, support limits on abortion rights. 

The poll shows an overwhelming majority of Americans, across gender, party, economic, educational, generational and racial lines, are against unlimited abortion on demand. It also shows that significant majorities, across all demographics, support restrictions Ms. Clift criticizes in her commentary.

Quoting the Guttmacher Institute, named after former Planned Parenthood president and American Eugenics Society vice president Alan Frank Guttmacher, Ms. Clift claims “never have we seen abortion restrictions like those that now exist in 45 states,” making 2021 a “year that is well on its way to being defined as the worst one in abortion rights history.”” 

While abortion restrictions are trending in some states, it is not happening to the extent she implies. 

The “45 states” factoid apparently refers to a study that found 45 states enacted abortion-related laws between January 2017 and November 2020. Of those 45 states, 12 enacted laws that actually expanded access to abortion. The Guttmacher Institute contends 16 (not 45) states have enacted abortion restrictions in 2021.

Considering Govs. Kay Ivey, Kim Reynolds and Kristi Noem have all recently supported and signed abortion restrictions into law, what would they make of Ms. Clift’s sweeping statement that “male powerbrokers embrace (the abortion issue) with the force of institutionalized misogyny”? Perhaps these governors could form a support group with the eight sitting female U.S. senators who have cast votes to restrict abortion rights. These governors and senators are all Republicans, incidentally, suggesting eligibility for Ms. Clift’s “institutionalized misogyny” club might actually have something to do with party affiliation and nothing to do with gender.

Ms. Clift’s suggestion that “abortion is free on demand” in the Netherlands is a bit of a head-scratcher. Netherlands law allows abortion only until the fetus becomes viable, the 24th week of pregnancy. Pre-viability abortions may be performed only by a certified clinic or hospital and the provision of abortions is very strictly regulated. After the 17th day of pregnancy, a five-day waiting period is required. The physician must confirm the circumstances are compelling and must inform the pregnant woman of other solutions. After the first trimester, two physicians must authorize the procedure, which must be performed in a hospital. Parental consent is required in most cases for women under 16 and in some cases for women under 18.

The Netherlands abortion law includes many of the restrictions Ms. Clift deems to be oppressive. It also bears no resemblance whatsoever to Vermont’s new abortion law, which allows abortion on demand, for any reason or no reason, for the entire term of a pregnancy. Vermont’s law bars any public entity from restricting or regulating abortion in any manner.

It is possible Vermont was emulating the Netherlands when it legalized the recreational use and sale of marijuana. But in enacting its no-restrictions abortion law, Vermont lawmakers rejected the Netherlands model entirely.

It is disappointing that much of Elayne Clift’s commentary has no basis in fact and would serve only to stoke alarmist sentiment. If there is a reasonable legal, medical or ethical case to be made in support of unrestricted abortion on demand, it has yet to be articulated in Vermont. 

Even the Dutch must be wondering what we’ve been smoking up here in these Green Mountains.


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