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Abortion, The Iraq War and 2008

By Ed Koch

I support the U.S. Supreme Court decision in the landmark case of Roe v. Wade (1973). The Supreme Court found a constitutional right empowering women, in consultation with their physicians, to abort the fetus they were carrying if they so desired. Until the most recent case of Gonzales v. Carhart decided last week, Roe v. Wade was basically upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court in abortion cases.

Last week, the court took the opposite view. The 5 to 4 decision for the first time limited in a major way the right of a woman to have a particular type of abortion, known by opponents of abortion as partial-birth abortion and by supporters of the right to an abortion as intact dilation and extraction. The procedure entails delivery of the fetus by bringing it to near birth through the birth canal, allowing its body to descend to a point where the fetus is expelled from its mother's body up to the head. At that point, the head is lacerated, the brain removed and the skull cracked so as to permit the head to be expelled from the mother's body.

The procedure is so gruesome that Senator Daniel Patrick Moynihan described it as "close to infanticide." There is no humane being, I believe, who isn't appalled by the procedure. However, those supporting its use argue that the alternative procedure which now will be used instead is equally gruesome and involves killing the fetus and then dismembering and extracting it from the mother's body limb by limb. Defenders of partial-birth abortion say this procedure may involve greater danger to the health of the mother than partial-birth abortion.

My own view of abortion is that in a rational world, which doesn't exist, abortion would be limited to the following conditions: protecting the life of the mother, rape, incest or gross deformity of the fetus. However, those who believe that no fetus may be intentionally destroyed for any reason simply will not accept any law permitting any form of abortion, therefore, it has become an unending struggle. Like Senator Moynihan, I too concluded that partial-birth abortion was unacceptable and a form of infanticide because were the infant to be delivered alive, head and all, and then killed, it would, in fact, be considered murder. Killing it a head's breadth away from full delivery makes the procedure, for me, unconscionable.

Interestingly, the two newest Supreme Court justices, John Roberts and Samuel Alito, during their Senate confirmation process stated in Congressional hearings their solemn support for the doctrine of stare decisis, a belief in precedent with earlier U.S. Supreme Court case outcomes governing their decisions. Those two judges quickly shed precedent in this case. Earlier cases had held that the prohibition by Congress of partial-birth abortion could only be sustained when the law permitted the attending physician to use the procedure to protect the life or health of the mother.

The Congress passed the current law with a finding that health was never a legitimate cause to use the procedure. My own belief is that the health exception should be available, but limited to the woman's future ability to bear children. Otherwise, health could justify the use of the procedure nearly without limit. The supporters of the unfettered right of abortion will not give up the fight and will support with even greater intensity the election of a president who will pledge to appoint U.S. Supreme Court justices in the image of the four dissenters and restore Roe v. Wade with its previous coverage. The opponents of abortion will continue in their efforts to eliminate abortion, some not even recognizing an exception for the life of the mother. The next presidential election in 2008 will revolve around two major issues, the war in Iraq and the operating table.

I believe the odds are overwhelming that no Republican candidate can be elected president in 2008 unless the Democratic Party self destructs. Ergo, whoever is nominated at the Democratic National Convention is likely to be the next president of the United States. My prediction and my hope is that it will be Hillary Clinton and that she will urge on the convention the designation of Barack Obama as her vice presidential choice.

As I stated, there will be only two major issues that will stir great interest with the electorate -- the war in Iraq and abortion. Democrats should keep in mind that there are large numbers of Americans, and I am one of them, who support Roe v. Wade, but are appalled by the partial-birth procedure and approved last week's Supreme Court decision. The Democratic Party would be best served if it did not make restoration of partial-birth abortion its goal, but urged the drawing of a line against further deterioration of the rights now accorded women seeking an abortion.

The leaders of the Democratic Party, Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi who recently said, "the road to Damascus is a road to peace," and went to Syria against the advice of the State Department, and Majority Leader of the Senate Harry Reid who recently said, "This war is lost," should be an embarrassment to the Democratic Party, and could cause the Democrats to lose next year's election. While I believe the Democrats have the edge in 2008, remember that Republicans thought they were a shoo-in in 1948. Harry Truman surprised them.
Ed Koch is the former Mayor of New York City.

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