May 21, 2024


Because abortion is such a well-covered topic, we seldom report developments in BioEdge, despite the fact that it is a key bioethical issue. However, a recent decision by the US Supreme Court, Gonzales v. Carhart, has prompted an enormous amount of commentary even in medical journals. With two Bush-appointed justices on the bench, the court found by a 5-4 majority that it was not unconstitutional to ban “partial-birth” abortions, in which the head of a partially born baby is cracked open and its brains siphoned out. The Federal law describes it as “a gruesome and inhuman procedure that is never medically necessary and should be prohibited”. It was hailed by pro-lifers as their biggest victory in 40 years.

The editor of the New England Journal of Medicine, Jeffrey M. Drazen, was outraged at this “intrusion of legislation into the day- to-day practice of medicine”. He rushed two commentaries into print as well. One was written by a NEJM associate editor who is also a Harvard Medical School professor who lamented the “intimidation of American physicians”. The other contributor was R. Alta Charo, a distinguished legal academic and bioethicist at the University of Wisconsin, who is also a director of the Guttmacher Institute, an abortions rights group. She argued that this decision shows that women’s rights are no longer deemed to be paramount. Instead “societal morality and the state’s interest in life even before the point of viability outside the womb” was becoming more important.