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Mel's Musings: Who should make decisions about your life?

Mel Olson
Mel Olson

I met many interesting people during my dozen years in the legislature; one was a tough, wily Republican rancher from West River. We called him “Rattlesnake” because he sat there seemingly harmless until he reared up striking fatally during floor debate. Although we disagreed at times, I liked him because he was a man of principle consistent in his beliefs. One of his core beliefs was staunchly pro-life.

I respect pro-life views but not merely “pro-birth” views. During my legislative tenure I saw plenty of grown men shed sincere tears of compassion over the unborn when debating abortion bills only to turn around and deny single moms a chance to get day care so they could go back to school to get a better job to support their children. I saw those same “pro-life” legislators deny children eligibility for health care under the Children’s Health Insurance Program. They also cut funding from programs that supported developmentally disabled people, the very type of fetus’ that are often aborted. They were just “pro-birth,” not pro-life, because once the child was born — regardless of the circumstances of the family, despite the condition of the child or the prospects for the future — that child and family were entirely on their own.

A Washington Post poll found 60 percent of Americans approve of abortions in nearly all cases, the highest level of support for abortion in 24 years, while 36 percent of Americans disapprove of abortions in all cases. According to studies of the Harvard Medical School an American woman today is 50 percent more likely to die in childbirth than her own mother was and the risk for minority women is three times higher than for white women. Having a child is a wondrous thing but the sad reality is, even in the 21st century, it still can be dangerous even deadly as well.

I served on legislative committees that considered abortion related legislation. In Roe v. Wade the general rule was that abortion should not be allowed in the third trimester of pregnancy. According to the Centers for Disease Control, abortions are at their lowest level for 50 years with 91 percent of abortions taking place before 13 weeks. Babies born in the 27 week or later have a 90 percent survival rate, while babies born at 24 weeks have a 20-35 percent chance of surviving. We heard testimony that a child could survive at 19 weeks so I introduced an amendment to ban abortions after that time with a life of the mother exception. It was rejected because the committee wanted to ban all abortions regardless of circumstances.

Some genetic defects don’t show up until late term and often a pregnancy doesn’t become life threatening until advanced stages. If we aren’t willing as a society to provide support to mothers after birth or more than bare-bones care for those born physically and mentally disabled and are unwilling to be foster or adoptive parents or to help support children struggling in poverty, then where does society get the right to ban all abortions?

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My own view is that abortion is akin to amputation. We don’t want doctors to routinely or as a first resort perform amputations but on the other hand we shouldn’t completely ban amputation as a procedure either. There are times, as terrible as amputation is, it is the better of two awful alternatives and who should make that choice? When you are losing a part of yourself whose decision should it be, the individual or society at large?

The Legislature shouldn’t ban all abortions; it can’t foresee every family situation or medical eventuality. If society is unwilling to endure a monetary burden in the form of taxation to help the helpless then should that financial responsibility and more be required of others who have already deemed themselves incapable of bearing it? Abortion, like amputation, is a terrible choice but it should remain a choice.

Related Topics: ABORTION
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