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Wednesday, 26 April 2006 00:00

Get ready for the backroom abortionists

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Three cheers for crime. If moralists have their way, it will only get worse.

How coincidental that within three short weeks of Justice Sam Alito’s long-anticipated confirmation to the U.S. Supreme Court, the anti-abortion lobby of South Dakota suddenly convinced state lawmakers to pass a sweeping bill outlawing abortion in all instances, except to save the life of a mother. Gov. Michael Rounds has indicated he will sign the bill into law. How little these people know.

With only 800 procedures performed a year in its lone clinic, South Dakota has one of the lowest abortion rates in the country. But backers of the bill say they intend for it to reach far beyond the state’s borders and into many other states. The movement for overturning Roe v. Wade is now well on its way. The pro-life lobby has the jump start it’s been waiting for over the last 30 years.

Who said there was no litmus test for Supreme Court appointees?

Never mind that, according to the most recent Gallup polls, 53 percent of the population considers themselves pro-choice and 42 percent pro-life. Never mind that a whopping 66 percent say they do not want to see Roe v. Wade overturned. Those figures have remained relatively constant for the last 20 years, despite all the baby billboards, unsolicited guilt trips, screaming protesters and violent acts against providers.

So much for the will of the people.

While the debate drones on, I rarely hear politicians and lobbyists allude to the consequences of legislating abortion back to trailer parks, back alleys, butcheries and Third World countries. For that’s where 1.2 million illegal abortions a year (according to the Guttmacher Institute) were performed before Roe v. Wade gave a woman the right to choose. That doesn’t include the thousands who attempted self-induced abortions. Unsanitary procedures and incompetence often resulted in serious medical complications and even death.

I remember those days. I was Miami-Dade homicide detective in the years before the 1973 ruling. Investigators were specifically dedicated to handle illegal abortions, jamming court dockets and jail cells with participants in the abortion business, including desperate mothers. In truth, it was a thriving enterprise for the black market. Criminals loved it.

Today, abortions in the first trimester — accounting for 90 percent of all terminations — cost an average of $400. If made illegal, they will cost upwards of $2,000, causing even further trauma for women who are without means. That often leads to more crime.

For those moralists who believe that making abortion illegal is going to prevent women from having abortions, I’ve got some cheap beachfront property to sell them in the Klondike. Just like using drugs and alcohol, there is no amount of legislation that is going to prevent it, not in a free society. Desperate women will continue terminating pregnancies, forced into the clandestine netherworld of crime where physical dangers prevail instead of open and safe procedures performed by qualified professionals.

Criminals are standing by licking their chops, hoping and praying for a complete ban by the Supreme Court so they can declare themselves open for business. By driving abortion procedures into the black market — and going by the pre-1973 estimates of illegal abortions — the illicit market will yield upwards of $2 to $3 billion a year, a lowball estimate.

And the taxpayer will foot the enormous costs of medical care for victims, plus police investigations, courts, lawyers and housing inmates who are unlucky enough to get caught. That’s not to mention the ancillary costs of welfare, disability and maladies stemming from emotional disorder.

There’s certainly more to this issue than meets the eye, far beyond questions of morality. The true answer lies not in caging people as criminals, but in compassion and education for women who feel desperate enough to end a pregnancy. Numbers of legal abortions have declined steadily, though slightly, over the last 10 years as more alternative information through counseling has been made available to women.

Now that the president has met his political commitment to loyal supporters by appointing two — ostensibly — anti-abortionist thinkers to the high court, it’s likely that a revised challenge to Roe v. Wade will soon follow. And should the moralists have their way, regardless of public opinion, crime will once again raise its ugly head in due appreciation.

We never learn.

(Marshall Frank writes newspaper columns and novels after a career as a homicide detective for the Miami-Dade Police Department. He can be reached at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .)

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