What’s in a name?

Introducing some alternative names for The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003 that describe the Act’s hidden realities.

Jason Stahl

This past week the Supreme Court upheld The Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003, thus officially making illegal a particular type of abortion method. As someone who supports abortion rights, I must admit that even having to use the official name of the act angers me. You see, the phrase “partial-birth abortion” was invented more than a decade ago by anti-abortion advocates to describe a particular type of abortion procedure.

In reality, there is no such thing as “partial birth abortion” in medical literature. Instead, the phrase was invented in order to evoke a particular image in the public’s mind – one that was ideologically loaded in favor of the anti-abortion side of the debate. Given this invention, and with PBABA now declared constitutional, I thought I might take this occasion to suggest some alternate names for the Act – ones that are certainly more favorable to the abortion rights side, but that also describe certain hidden realities of the Act itself. Here’s what I’ve come up with:

1) The Won’t Stop a Single Abortion Act. That’s right; PBABA will not stop a single abortion from taking place. Coverage of the act might have led you to believe that it outlaws late-term abortions. It does not. The act outlaws one type of abortion performed after the first trimester while leaving other options in place for abortion within this same time frame. Moreover, according to most OB-GYNs, the method that has been banned is more humane for both the mother and fetus than the methods that are still legal.

2) The We Don’t Care About Women’s Health Act. Existing law regarding abortion up until this ruling has said that any law banning procedures after viability (when the fetus can survive outside the womb) must contain an exception where a doctor decides that the life or health of the mother is impaired. PBABA does not contain such an exception. The five justices who declared the act constitutional upended this precedent and thus declared the health of the mother irrelevant.

3) The Opening of the Floodgates Act. Given that the act will not actually stop one abortion, its real purpose is to make such restrictions more socially acceptable, thus leading to further restrictions in the future. In the aftermath of the Supreme Court’s ruling, anti-abortion advocates such as Troy Newman (president of Operation Rescue), admitted as much, saying, “The time is now right to launch aggressive legal challenges across America to abortion on demand. … The court has now said it’s OK to ban procedures. We can do more than just put hurdles in front of women seeking abortions – we can put roadblocks in front of them.”

4) The Women Don’t Know What’s Best for Them Act. Justice Anthony Kennedy’s majority opinion, which declared PBABA constitutional, perfectly articulates the throwback gender roles at the heart of the act. Kennedy argues that the particular procedure in question is so objectionable and that the decision is “so fraught with emotional consequence, some doctors may prefer not to disclose precise details of the abortion procedure to be used. It is, however, precisely this lack of information that is of legitimate concern to the State.” However, rather than arguing that women be given all the information about the procedure and then be allowed to make the decision for themselves, Kennedy instead argues for a total ban, thus substituting his judgment as a 70-year-old rich white man for the judgment of approximately 150,000,000 American women and their doctors.

5) The Elections Have Consequences Act. Back in 2000, a nearly identical Nebraska state law was struck down by the U.S. Supreme Court as unconstitutional. However, since that time, Bush was able to install new judges on the court who were willing to ignore existing abortion law precedent. In particular, the replacement of Sandra Day O’Connor with Samuel Alito meant that the court would be tilted in favor of ignoring existing abortion law. Who said elections didn’t have consequences?

Some on the anti-abortion side will argue that these names are unfair. Maybe so, but they are no more unfair than “partial birth abortion” and no more unfair than the fact that five men in robes just took away the right of millions of women to make the best choice for their health.

Jason Stahl welcomes comments at [email protected]