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  • Walter Weber

Harvard Crimson Off the Deep End

Some of the assessments of the Roberts Court are so hyperbolic as to merit special notice. The Harvard Crimson's staff editorial of Apr. 22, 2007, is an example. In discussing the partial birth abortion decision, the Crimson staff called the concept of respect for human life, at least in the abortion context, "chilling". Here's the Crimson's exact wording:

From here, there can be no question of the court's intended direction, succinctly, albeit chillingly, put by the author of the majority opinion, Justice Anthony M. Kennedy: "The act expresses respect for the dignity of human life."

Am I the only one to find it absolutely remarkable that Justice Kennedy's fairly bland statement could be regarded as "chillingly" phrased? But that's not all. The Crimson staff continues: "Despite the ignorant claims of the court's majority, intact dilation and extraction [i.e., partial birth abortion] can rescue women from grave medical situations." It might strike some as arrogant for the Crimson staff to dismiss a Supreme Court majority as "ignorant." But it is also, in this case, ironic. The legal claim of the challengers (the abortionists) was not that partial birth abortions were somehow necessary to "rescue women from grave medical situations". Rather, the claim was that partial birth abortions, while not the only safe abortion method available, might be relatively safer than other methods for some women in some circumstances. In other words, the question was not whether a woman could be "rescued" (assuming an abortion could do this), but how she would be "rescued." This is a decision on the same order as a decision between radiation, chemotherapy, and Laetrile for a cancer patient. Does the disallowance of Laetrile as an option have the "worst possible repercussions for American[s]," to borrow the Crimson's phrasing? Can we really say absolutely that Laetrile is necessary to "rescue" cancer patients? Or is it not rather another example of a medical option whose merits are debatable, in which case the regulatory authorities, at least under current law, get to make the call as to what is allowed?


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