Garber: Legal policies do not affect abortion stances

by Eun Lee Koh | 11/13/96 6:00am

University of Maryland Government Professor Mark Graber '78 said legal policies do little to change people's stances on abortion in a lecture last night.

Graber delivered his lecture, titled "Rethinking (Everything but) Abortion: Constitutional Law and Reproductive Politics," to approximately 60 people in 3 Rockefeller Center.

"The democratic notion is that people can best judge for themselves what is right for them," Graber said. "Essentially there is almost little you can do within the law to change the attitude" about abortion.

Restrictions regarding abortions are no more enforceable than restrictions regarding drinking, he said.

"It will never be the case that when abortion is legal, every women is coerced into having abortions and that when abortion is illegal, no woman will have an abortion," Graber said

People who really want an abortion will find ways to have one, he said.

Graber said during the time when abortion was illegal from 1940 to 1953, "illegal abortion was the third most lucrative criminal enterprise in the United States," after gambling and narcotics. Abortion mills performed up to 45 abortions a day and as many as 1,000 per year, he said.

In his lecture, Graber outlined the ramifications of banning abortion.

Graber stressed that illegal abortions create major health hazards.

"In the real world, when abortion is banned, it doesn't do anything for the abortion rate," he said. "All it does is convert legal abortions into illegal abortions. Illegal abortions are more dangerous and more women die."

"In many hospitals, they had 100 times more patients admitted for complications after illegal abortions than patients who were admitted for legal abortions," he said.

Graber said that the majority of women who have legal abortions are white women, but the main beneficiaries of legal abortion would be poor and minority women.

According to abortion statistics in New York City for the past 10 years, affluent white women received 94 percent of the safe legal abortions, while 93 percent of the deaths that occurred in criminal abortions were poor colored women.

"If women will risk life and limb to have a criminal abortion, they will somehow scraggle $250 to have a legal one," Graber said. "Most of the regulations we fight over may inconvenience a lot of women, but do they make a difference to abortion rate? No."

Graber also said that policy positions on abortion come in general packages, rather than as separate contingencies.

"If you believe abortion is equivalent to murder, then abortion is immoral. So any policy that sanctions abortion is immoral," Graber said. "Any question about the morality of abortion seems to answer questions about the morality of abortion policy. The same goes for the pro-choice side of the scale."

People who are pro-life tend to be sexual conservatives, meaning they value procreation. Their opposites, sexual libertarians, value procreative liberties, Graber said.

"You choose the package that will better serve your values," Graber said.

Graber earned his law degree at Columbia Law School and his Ph.D. in political science from Yale University. He has authored two books, "Transforming Free Speech: The Ambiguous Legacy of Civil Libertarianism," and his most recent, "Rethinking Abortion: Equal Choice, the Constitution and Reproductive Politics."

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