05/01/2013 12:37 pm ET Updated Jul 01, 2013

The Importance of Roe vs. Wade

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When abortion became legal in this country, its benefits to society were so obvious that one could be deluded into thinking that the issue was settled. During my tenure at Bellevue Hospital in New York City, I saw the disappearance of back-alley abortions that led to life-threatening infections; a significant decline in the number of 13-year-old mothers and 28-year-old grandmothers; and a decrease in the number of babies born without a prayer of a decent life. New York City itself might have been saved. In a time of severe economic distress, the geometric increase in the economic burden placed upon the city was ameliorated to some degree.

There are those who will immediately leap out of their chairs and chastise me for being arrogant enough to judge whether any fetus is less valuable than another, or that life can be valued in dollars and cents. Such people should then advocate for an end to social research and data collection.

We cannot afford every child. If we could, people would be less diligent about family planning. Children are like every other responsibility in life, only more so. If you want one, be ready and capable of caring for it. The solution is not to turn to society and say, "I made it; now you worry about it." Roe v. Wade was one solution to the greatest tragedy of all, the unwanted child.

It never occurred to me that something as necessary, even if unpleasant, as legal abortion would be threatened on a state-by-state level. Even in those states where religion runs amok in legislatures, I assumed that abortion would be left to individual conscience. North Dakota has proven how silly I was. What I don't understand is how that state's legislature could promulgate laws inviting lawsuits that would beg comparison to Tennessee's Scopes Monkey Trial of the '20s.

Apparently, North Dakota has based its law on the concept that life starts with a heartbeat, and that abortion should be barred starting six weeks after conception. If this is so, does it end with the cessation of cardiac activity? This would seem to be the logical next step. In other words, I would assume that a woman could have a uterine scraping to remove the products of conception if it was found that the heartbeat had disappeared. Or would she have to walk around without the procedure just in case?

North Dakota also has an organ donation program. Like other states, this is done through its driver license system. As I recall, all the patients I cared for during organ donation still had heartbeats. In fact, they had to have blood circulating to keep the organs from being ruined, and we did everything we could to keep the blood pressure at a reasonable level until the organs were donated. Then, by North Dakota's way of thinking, we killed those patients.

The medical world considers meaningful life to be tied to cerebral activity. When the electroencephalogram (EEG) goes flat, the ballgame is over, which was why organ donation was a legally viable process. Any fan of Law and Order knows that. The body will not live without a functioning brain for more than a short period. North Dakota knows better. Apparently, the beating of a tiny piece of muscle (which, by the way, possesses what is know as automaticity; that is, the heart muscle tends to beat on its own even outside the body in an experimental setting) means life. If that's so, how can an abortion be a mere felony? Shouldn't the doctor be tried for premeditated murder, with the mother also indicted as a willing accomplice?

Since there is no scientific basis for declaring a six-week-old fetus a person, the obvious origin of the laws that have recently cropped up in North Dakota and four other states is religious. These states are rampaging against birth control for the same reason. How long will it be before tubal ligation and vasectomy are outlawed?

One other thing: What is "the abortion industry?" When was the last time you saw an abortion commercial on TV? Even Planned Parenthood doesn't talk about this small part of its activities. The "industry" sobriquet has lately become popular with the religious right in an attempt to paint abortion as being akin to beer and golf clubs, strictly something people do for fun so other people can make money. It is difficult to picture North Dakota's lone, beleaguered abortion clinic as an "abortion industry." The obvious retort is, "How does it stack up against the religion industry?" I haven't seen many abortionists in handcuffs being dragged off for sleeping with male prostitutes, or defrauding their clinics of tens of millions of dollars. I haven't seen doctors on TV guilting people into donating hard-earned dollars to elaborate, glamorous organizations in order to avoid going to hell, or to guarantee prosperity later in life.

The answer to the abortion issue is so simple that it beggars belief that we haven't gotten to that place. If you don't want an abortion, don't have one. No one is having an abortion for fun. It is often a life-wrenching decision that simply has to be made. Even birth control isn't enough, as there are mentally challenged women who do not have the ability to use it properly. Instead of pulling made-up scientific ideas out of your butt (remember the Lucy van Pelt School of science facts in Peanuts) in order to camouflage purely religion-based legislation, leave the less pious of us alone to do what, unfortunately, has to be done to make more livable the lives of women who have to make the terrible decision to have an abortion. Leave Roe v. Wade intact.