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King: A personal issue becomes public
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Back in the late ’80s, I wrote a column, actually an open letter to the Georgia legislature, that began: "The abortion issue threatens to split the spiritual fabric of our nation."

A little overdramatic for my tastes these days, but still essentially true. Abortion still threatens the fabric of our nation, and we are no closer to a solution than we were 30 years ago.

There is a piece of wisdom that says if you aren’t getting the answers you seek, it is because you are asking the wrong questions.

The abortion issue isn’t being solved, can’t and won’t be solved, because it has been thrust into the political arena where it doesn’t belong. Abortion is a private decision, a matter between husband and wife and between a woman and her God.

Society has legitimate concerns when it comes to the behavior of individuals, but the line between the personal and the body politic has always been a minefield. This is why we have courts and lawyers. This is why the U.S. Constitution has a Bill of Rights.

In 1973, the Supreme Court made abortion legal, and the fight was on.

Opponents have made it a cause celebre, their reason for being. They organize. They lobby Congress. The carry signs that say "Baby Killers." Doctors have been shot, clinics bombed.

Behavior of this kind happens when people become emotionally involved in public policy, but for public policy to change individual behavior, it must do so in the public arena. In the case of abortion, here is only so much the law can do. The law cannot stop abortion. It can only drive it underground.

Where abortion is illegal, women die. Where abortion is legal, women and their children are healthier. The statistics back this up, but the battle against abortion doesn’t respond to reason, and there is little I can say that will change anybody’s opinion.

What I can do is stress the importance of getting this very personal, very private issue out of our health care debate. If a health plan disallows abortion services, some women — especially poor women — can and probably will start the abortion process on their own and then report to a hospital with the consequences: bleeding, infection and other damage. Once again, expensive emergency services will be used because simpler, safer measures weren’t available when needed.

When matters of conscience invade public life, we are on treacherous ground. According to an article in The Times, Bishop Thomas Tobin of Rhode Island has had a public spat with Rep. Patrick Kennedy over abortion. It’s one thing to council a parishioner. It’s another to call a U.S. congressman "erratic" as Bishop Tobin did.

When the lines between church and state are breached, everybody comes away damaged.

Many Catholics practice birth control. Some have abortions. Some, who would never have an abortion, still support abortion rights for others.

In fact, Catholics aren’t that much different than the rest of the public. Abortion, at least in the first trimester, is widely recognized as a reasonable, even a moral response to a difficult or unintended pregnancy.

However, the highly emotional argument surrounding abortion has stigmatized a personal decision, and this undermines public health.

Medical records are incomplete. Politicians pander to a vocal minority because they fear retaliation. Women are confused by propaganda when what they need is facts.

It is very unlikely that Roe v. Wade will be overturned. Abortion is legal. If you find abortion repugnant, work for comprehensive sex education and improved contraceptive techniques. We need health care reform. Let’s not mess it up again.

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears every other Tuesday and on

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