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Scott Harris: Choice Means Choice, for Everyone

As Proposition 4 brings the issue to the forefront, the same right should extend to physicians whose morals don't allow them to participate in abortions.

Pro-choice, rapidly becoming known as “reproductive rights,” is the belief that a woman should have complete and total control over her pregnancy, including the right to terminate it through abortion. Inherent in that belief is that the mother’s rights supersede those of the fetus, the father and (if Proposition 4 fails) the parents of minors.

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Scott Harris
While there are a variety of battles within this war — partial-birth abortions, incest, rape, the health of the mother — ultimately the conflict is between those who believe life (and rights as human beings) begins at conception and those who believe that that life (and rights) begins sometime after conception. For many, this means not until birth. This election season reminds us that the abortion issue also involves the rights of additional parties, namely parents of pre-teen girls and physicians.

Pro-choicers argue that a woman’s decision regarding abortion is an intensely personal choice — and a legal right. This view was confirmed in the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 decision of Roe vs.Wade, still one of the most controversial of all Supreme Court decisions and the ultimate litmus test for voters and politicians.

About 60 percent of Americans support the right of a woman to have an abortion. Some of that 60 percent do not personally believe in abortion, but feel they cannot or should not impose their beliefs in this matter on others.

This exclusive “right” is once again front and center as we prepare to vote on Prop 4 next month. If passed, Prop 4 would require parental notification before a pre-teen has an abortion. If it fails, parents do not have to be notified, before or after the abortion.

Those who oppose Prop 4 ask us to believe that a pre-teen is mature enough to get pregnant, to make the decision to abort the fetus, to select a doctor to perform the abortion, and handle all post-abortion physical, moral and emotional issues. At the same time, according to anti-Prop 4 reasoning, pre-teens are not able to go to a school nurse, family physician, Planned Parenthood or an adult family member and say, “I’m scared of my dad.”

It is hard to imagine a rational adult who has not struggled with the issue of abortion. Even the most steadfast pro-lifer has to agonize with Solomonic decisions involving mothers whose very lives are at risk, or young rape victims who would carry their babies — and a reminder of the tragedy — to term. Similarly, the staunchest pro- choice advocate must cringe at the horrific images of partial-birth abortions and struggle to determine when a fetus becomes a life.

In the end, those who do not believe in abortion are asked/forced to accept the position that abortion is about a woman’s body, a woman’s right and a woman’s choice, and that religion, society, parents and fathers have no role in the decision.

Beyond threatening the rights of parents of pre-teen girls, the most strident pro-choicers now want to force doctors to perform abortions or refer patients to someone who will, regardless of whether their consciences say otherwise. As Hastings Center bioethicist Nancy Berliner puts it, “Your religious rights don’t mean you can use them to undermine someone’s civil rights.” In layman’s terms: “I want an abortion and you have to perform it or find someone who will.”

Patients’ rights advocates argue that an unwillingness to perform an abortion, or refer the patient to someone who will, is a violation of a patient’s civil rights. Hogwash. Pro-life physicians are not prohibiting anyone from getting an abortion, they are simply unwilling, for reasons of conscience, to perform or participate in any way.

Physician William Toffler of Oregon Health and Science University in Portland recently told The Washington Post why he will not even give a referral: “Think about slavery. I am a blacksmith, and a slave owner asks me to repair the shackles of a slave. Should I have to say, ‘I can’t do it but there’s a blacksmith down the road who will’?”

How is it possible that a group of people whose position is “my uterus, my choice” cannot understand a physician saying “my hands, my choice”? Many Americans who do not personally believe in abortion still support the right of others to make what is unquestionably a difficult and personal choice. However, it is the height of selfishness, narcissism and hypocrisy not to extend that same right to choose to physicians whose morals do not permit them to participate in abortion.

If we are going to respect an individual’s right to choose, we must respect it for everyone.

Scott Harris is a political commentator. Read his columns and contact him through his Web site, www.scottharris.biz, or e-mail him at [email protected]

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