ABORTION POLITICS: Private Morality and Public Policy by Frederick S.; Barbara L. Lindheim & Philip R. Lee Jaffe
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ABORTION POLITICS: Private Morality and Public Policy

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KIRKUS REVIEW

In 1973 the Supreme Court legalized abortion nationwide; in June 1980, the Court refused to strike down the Hyde amendment which virtually eliminated the use of Medicaid funds (and, by extension, any public funds) to pay for abortions. Anyone who wishes to understand the forces that brought about that retreat--and what might be salvaged from it--can do no better than to begin here. The expert panel--the late Frederick Jaffe was president of the Alan Guttmacher Institute of the Planned Parenthood Federation (which commissioned the work), Barbara Lindheim is a statistical analyst, Philip Lee is Professor of Social Medicine at UC, San Francisco--first reviews the consequences of the 1973 decision: three in ten pregnancies now terminated by abortion; a sharp jump in abortion among blacks; a very low death rate (8 in 1978, or 0.5 percent); no statistical evidence, importantly, ""that abortion is being widely substituted for contraception""; some evidence that two or more abortions increase the subsequent risk of miscarriage--the one health risk tentatively documented. Still, abortion facilities are very unevenly distributed--which brings the authors to their major charge: that the medical mainstream has ""copped out,"" leaving most abortions to be performed at the new freestanding clinics which, moreover, are disproportionately located in metropolitan areas. Here, they prove their point--the scarcity of hospital services, the hostility of physicians, governmental indifference--without, however, giving us reason to question the value of the freestanding clinic as a pragmatic solution to a socially divisive issue. Its two cited drawbacks--that it requires a sizable population base, that low-income women tend to rely on public hospitals--are not, per se, insurmountable. The book's second theme is ""what many view as an escalating Catholic offensive on abortion rights"" and its spread, via the Right-to-Life movement, as a moral doctrine. Not until 1869, the authors point out, did the Church condemn abortion of the ""unformed"" fetus (under 40 days for males, 80 days for females); and as of 1979, 50 percent of Catholics (compared to 54 percent of non-Catholics) ""agreed that every woman who wants an abortion should be able to have one."" But apart from undermining the anti-abortion case, the authors want to advance the cause of pluralism; and here they cite to particular advantage: the likelihood that narrow views will also curtail fetal research and genetic-screening services (like amniocentesis); and the remarkable collapse of contraception as an issue. A thoroughgoing, even-tempered review of an inflammatory situation.

Pub Date: Jan. 11th, 1980
Publisher: McGraw-Hill