DATE August 30, 2004 ACCOUNT NUMBER N/A
TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A
PROGRAM Fresh Air
Interview: Rick Santorum discusses his views on abortion, stem
cell research and shares a personal experience
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
The Republican Party's 2004 platform reaffirms the party's call for a
constitutional amendment that would ban abortion. A little later we'll hear
from Gloria Feldt, the head of Planned Parenthood of America. Her new book,
"The War on Choice," begins with a quote from George W. Bush saying, "I will
do everything in my power to restrict abortion."
First, we're going to hear from Republican Senator Rick Santorum of
Pennsylvania, the third-ranking Republican in the Senate. He co-sponsored the
Unborn Victims of Violence Act, also known as the Laci Peterson bill, which
makes harming a fetus a separate crime from harming the pregnant woman. He
was the chief sponsor of the bill banning the controversial procedure known as
partial-birth abortion. The law is being challenged in the courts. The
latest decision was handed down last week by a federal judge in New York, who
ruled that the ban was unconstitutional because it did not exempt cases where
the procedure might be necessary to protect a woman's health. Senator
Santorum also opposes all forms of embryonic stem cell research. The senator
will speak Wednesday at the Republican convention.
Let's look at what the Republican platform has to say about abortion, and I
quote: "We say that the unborn child has a fundamental individual right to
life which cannot be infringed. We support a human life amendment to the
Constitution, and we endorse legislation to make clear that the 14th
Amendment's protections apply to unborn children." This would mean, I think,
that an embryo would have the same constitutional rights as the pregnant
woman carrying it. Is that right?
Senator RICK SANTORUM (Republican, Pennsylvania): That's correct. It--I
think it's a fundamental belief that life begins when it's--at conception
because at that point, that egg and sperm that have combined are genetically
human. They've all the chromosomes present of any other human being, and it's
living, it's a human life and, as a result, should be protected by our
Constitution and the 14th Amendment of the Constitution, which protects all
life. And that's the kind of inclusive society that the president talks about
in his--when he refers to the culture of life and has been the position of the
party now for at least, I think, 24 years.
GROSS: So, Senator, what are the legal implications of this if the fetus--if
a fertilized egg basically has equal constitutional rights as the woman
carrying it. If, for instance, a woman's health is...
Sen. SANTORUM: Well, the fertilized...
GROSS: ...threatened by the pregnancy, what are the legal implications?
Sen. SANTORUM: Well, first off, the fertilized egg is a little girl or
little boy. It's not a fertilized egg anymore. It's genetically not going to
change at all. It is exactly as you or I or any other person in America or in
the world was at that point in time in our lives and should be treated with
respect as a result of it. What the implications are is that we have to honor
and respect that, and we have to take responsibility for that child and
protect that child until it is capable of providing for itself. And whether
that means adoption or whether it means, you know, the mother...
GROSS: My question was if the health of the woman is threatened by the
pregnancy and if the embryo has equal rights to the woman who's carrying it,
what are the legal implications about the woman's health and her ability to
Sen. SANTORUM: Yeah, if the case is a situation--and I think we've always
made this clear. If the case was a situation between the life of the mother
and the life of the child, then obviously that's a decision where--we run into
all the time in the law, which is if it's two people's lives then obviously
you aren't prosecuted for, in a sense, self-defense. If you're defending your
own life, then you can take the life of another to defend your own life.
That is clear in the law. But as you know, 99-plus percent of abortions...
GROSS: So it would be the equivalent of, like, shooting somebody in
Sen. SANTORUM: It's exact--if that child is a threat to your life, then you
have a right to defend yourself, in a sense, against this child. But as you
know, over 99 percent of abortions in this country have nothing to do with the
health or life of the mother. They have to do with the convenience or desire
at that point in time in the woman's life not to have a child and the child is
killed because of...
GROSS: But we're talking specifically about the provision in the Republican
platform to give equal constitutional rights to the fetus, which is slightly
different than just whether abortion is legal or not, so that's why I'm asking
specifically about that.
Sen. SANTORUM: But--well, I understand that, but we have to look at the vast
number of cases in which we're dealing with the issue of abortion, and in the
vast number of cases--you know, over 99 percent--we're talking about abortion
which is done simply because the mother no longer wants the child, not because
there's any health consequences or life consequences to the mother. And
that's why this is, you know--I can understand how people would obviously have
exceptions for the life of the mother or maybe even some other rare
circumstances like rape or incest or something like that, but the idea that
this is an extreme idea that children and that all human life at all points in
time in life should be protected and given constitutional protection and be
treated in a dignified and respectable manner, I think, is something that
every advanced society should have as its credo.
GROSS: But if a woman's life isn't threatened, but her health is likely to be
compromised, should that be taken into account, or is that--does the...
Sen. SANTORUM: Again, the law speaks to that, and that is that you can use
lethal force if lethal force is, in a sense, being used against you. In other
words, if your life is threatened, then you can respond in kind. If something
less than that, then you can respond in less than that. The interesting thing
is, with modern medicine today, you know, there are all sorts of procedures
available in which, you know, we can attempt to save the child. But there are
times, as I think you've pointed to, where pregnancies, you know, may need to
be terminated to protect the life of the mother. But with respect to health,
there's usually situations, again, with modern medicine, that we can deal with
those to minimize any kind of health effects to the mother.
GROSS: Let's get back to the Republican platform when it comes to abortion in
addition to giving equal legal and constitutional protections to the fetus.
The platform says, `We support the appointment of judges who respect
traditional family values and the sanctity of innocent human life.' Does that
mean that in the Republican platform it basically says there should be a
litmus test to appoint only judges who oppose abortion?
Sen. SANTORUM: I think what we've seen in practice is that the president
wants judges, and Republicans usually put forward judges, who see their role
as not creating new law but in fact the role of interpreting the laws of this
nation within the realm of what the Congress intended. And that's really what
this point is about, which is, what happened in Roe vs. Wade and what's
happened in some of the other subsequent cases after Roe was the judges took
on the responsibility of the Legislature and created law where it did not
exist. There was no right to an abortion in the law and there was no right to
an abortion in the Constitution. And it's not the role of judges to create
new rights when they believe they want it. That's what the constitutional
amendment process is about, and that's what the Legislature and the Congress
and the president and governors in the states are about. It's about the
people making these decisions as to what rights people should have as opposed
to a few unelected judges sitting on high, dictating to us how we're going to
live our lives and run our country.
And so it is really that dichotomy between an activist judge who sees their
role as to be sort of the warrior putting forth their agenda and imposing on
the public, and, by the way, having no check or balance, because once the
judge says this is the law, it's very, very hard for a Congress or a president
to overturn it, short of this rather cumbersome procedure called a
constitutional amendment, which takes two-thirds of the House and Senate and
three-quarters of the states. Yet to create a new constitutional right, the
way we've seen it now in practice over the last 40 years, takes the stroke of
a pen and four signatures assigned to it. Five justices of the Supreme Court
can do what it takes three-quarters of the states and two-thirds of the
Congress to accomplish. That's not the balance that our Founding Fathers
intended, and it's this corruption of judicial power that this is aimed at.
GROSS: You say that you oppose judges who are activist with their own agenda,
but could you argue that the judges the Republican platform calls for
appointing are activist judges with an agenda? Their agenda is to overturn
abortion and make it illegal.
Sen. SANTORUM: No, their agenda is to return to the traditional role of what
judges are supposed to do in the checks and balance of powers that was
established in the Constitution, which is the judges are there to interpret
the law within the realm of congressional intent, not to be able to on their
own create new constitutional rights without the process that the founders put
forth, which is a constitutional amendment process. I understand it's easier;
I understand it's quicker. I understand it's less mess and trouble. But it's
not the way we should be changing our Constitution. So, no. We're not saying
that judges should come forward and say that all abortions are banned. What
we should say is that this is a decision left up to the people of the United
States to make in their state capitals and in the nation's capital. That's
what the Republican platform calls for, that's what Republicans generally have
been calling for ever since 1972 and '73, and that is to let the people speak
on these very important moral issues instead of a select group of judges
proclaiming from on high how Americans shall live.
GROSS: Now we've been talking about the Republican Party platform planks on
abortion. There hasn't been a lot of public discussion about abortion during
this election period. Why is that? How important do you think the Republican
platform on abortion is, and how much do you think we should be discussing it?
Sen. SANTORUM: Well, I think it's probably as important as the Democratic
plank on abortion, which is, you know, abortion on demand, which is--if you
look at where the public is on the issue of abortion, more of the public, you
know, hold the position that the Republican platform has than hold the
position the Democratic platform has. The Democratic platform has abortion on
demand at any time during pregnancy. That is a position held by less than 20
percent of the people in America, whereas the Republican position is held by,
you know, upwards of close to 30 percent of the people in America, and if you
take the cases of rape and incest, which are, you know, 10ths of a percent of
the abortions that we have to deal with in America, you know, the number gets,
you know, up into the 40 percent. So, you know, the idea that somehow or
another the Republican platform position is out of the mainstream I think is
simply not the case and, in fact, I think is a very important part of the
base of the Republican Party, just as a very important part of the pro-choice
element is of the Democratic Party.
GROSS: My guest is Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania. We'll talk more
after a break.
This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Senator Rick Santorum of Pennsylvania, a staunch opponent
President Bush supports only very limited embryonic stem cell research. You
oppose embryonic stem cell research completely. Now these are stem cells from
an embryo about a week after fertilization when the embryo consists of a few
hundred cells. And the embryos in question--This is my understanding: The
embryos in question for stem cell research now basically come from fertility
clinics that have these embryos that are no longer under consideration for
implantation in a woman's womb, which means that they can't grow into a baby
'cause they're just in a test tube and they're not in a womb, and they would
end up being discarded. Why not use them for medical research?
Sen. SANTORUM: It's a utilitarian argument, and the problem is that what
we're talking about here is not stem cell research. What we're talking about
here is federal funding of stem cell research. There's no ban.
GROSS: Understood. Right.
Sen. SANTORUM: The president hasn't banned stem cell research, not--what he
has said is that the federal government shall not participate in the
destruction of human life by funding that destruction and that with respect to
the existing lines of embryonic stem cells that are out there, he said that
the federal government can fund those lines, but we are not going to
participate in any way in the destruction of human life. It's somewhat
similar to abortion, which is abortions are legal in this country, but the
federal government will not use federal dollars to fund abortions. It's a
consistent argument, one that has been fairly well accepted by the American
So the idea that, you know, we need to go down this path is another
fundamental question, and it's a question that really begs a lot more study,
which is, you know, what benefits have we seen or can we anticipate from
embryonic stem cell research? Number one, there's no therapeutic value at all
at this point to embryonic stem cell research. There is substantial--a number
of therapeutic values to adult stem cell research, using cord blood and other
adult stem cells from human beings. We should actively pursue that adult stem
With respect to the use of embryos from in vitro fertilization clinics, again,
I just come back to the fact that the federal government should not be
participating in funding the destruction of any human life. Those embryos can
and hopefully will be given up for adoption. There's lots of people in
America who simply cannot even go to an in vitro clinic and have a fertilized
egg, and so it's an opportunity for adoption of those embryos. There's all
sorts of options available other than experimentation, killing these children,
these little human beings for the purpose of research. I just don't think
that's what federal government should be doing.
GROSS: These are embryos that are never going to become children because...
Sen. SANTORUM: We would hope that they'd be adopted.
GROSS: ...they're at fertility clinics and they're--let me ask you. Do you
oppose fertility clinics that do in vitro fertilization? Because at these
clinics there are inevitably embryos that are discarded. So...
Sen. SANTORUM: Yeah, I think that a lot of them...
GROSS: ...would you like to see them close down or to regulate their
practices in a way that they're not being regulated now?
Sen. SANTORUM: I think that a lot of in vitro clinics end up producing a lot
more fertilized eggs than are needed to deal with the situation at hand. And
I think, you know, that's part of their process, and I think that's a very
casual and cavalier way to treat human life.
GROSS: So would you like to see the regulation of the number of fertilized
eggs that fertilization...
Sen. SANTORUM: I don't think we should be treating...
GROSS: ...clinics can use?
Sen. SANTORUM: Yeah, I think that's a good question. I don't think we
should be creating human life in a cavalier fashion in the sense that we're
creating a lot more human lives than whatever would be needed for
implantation. And so I understand the expense associated with it, but we are
talking about human life here, and I think, you know, regulation as to the
number of these is something that state legislatures have looked into, and I
know the Congress has looked into this.
GROSS: Are you opposed to in vitro fertilization if it does end up with
embryos that will not be implanted in a woman's womb and will not become a
Sen. SANTORUM: Yes.
GROSS: So you're opposed to that form of in vitro fertilization.
Sen. SANTORUM: Yeah. I don't think that's a position that is what the...
GROSS: Your party doesn't say that, but you believe that.
Sen. SANTORUM: That party doesn't get in to that, but I do believe...
Sen. SANTORUM: Look, I mean, I--a full disclosure here. I'm a Roman
Catholic. I very strongly believe that life begins at conception and that we
should not be destroying life at any stage of life, and I feel very strongly
about that. I think a society that is a welcoming society, that is a society
that respects all human life is a society in which all people will be treated
more justly and more fairly.
GROSS: Senator, I know you have to leave, so I will ask you quickly to
reflect on a personal experience you've had that reflects on your opinion in
the debate about abortion. Your wife was 20 weeks pregnant when she found out
that the baby she was carrying had a severe medical problem. There was an
obstruction in the urinary tract, and the doctors told her that the child
basically would not survive outside of her womb. What were the--and she had a
severe infection that developed as well. What were the options that she had
at that point? What did you have to decide?
Sen. SANTORUM: Well, there was that physical abnormality in our son, and the
options available were to continue with the pregnancy, which there was a small
chance that the obstruction could clear but very, very small chance, almost
zero; and two, we could intervene and try to do some procedure to relieve that
obstruction and provide some hope for the baby to survive; or three, obviously
you could terminate the pregnancy; that's an option that was made available.
Obviously, we would not consider the last option, and we did not consider the
first option because we believed that gave no hope for our son.
And so we did the thing that I think, you know, if this child was not in the
womb but was three years old, I think most would say, well, would you kill
your child? Would you do nothing to try to save your child? Or would you do
the medical procedure that gave the best chance to survive? And so we acted
the way we thought prudent parents should act, and we had a medical procedure
done in Philadelphia that gave our son a chance.
Like many medical procedures, there's a risk of infection, and when the
procedure was done--obviously you open up the womb to outside instruments and
other things when you have a surgery done. And unfortunately, as a result of
that, several days after the surgery she--my wife had an infection in the
uterus which caused her to go into labor. And the baby was delivered, and
Gabriel was 21-plus weeks old and he was born alive. And he lived for two
hours, and he was not old enough or well-developed enough to have survived
beyond that. And so we gave comfort care to him for those two hours in which
And it, you know, affected me profoundly because it realized to me that all
life is significant and precious no matter how brief or how disabled or how
short. And his life has affected mine in ways--and other people's
lives--Karen wrote a book about it, there have been articles written about
it--and the hundreds if not thousands of people who have been touched by his
life shows me that, you know, there's a plan for all of us. We don't know
what it is and we don't know how long we're going to be here, but we have to
respect the fact that all of us have the ability to make a contribution to the
betterment of all, even though we may not be here long or may not be very
healthy in the process.
GROSS: After he died, you brought him home to show your children. Why did
you want to do that?
Sen. SANTORUM: We brought him home to bury him. You know, we thought it was
appropriate. He was a member of our family, and instead of taking him to a
funeral home for a viewing, if you will, we brought him home for a Mass at the
house and then, with the funeral director, brought him over to the cemetery
where he was buried. So, yeah, we had--in a sense, you could call it a
viewing. Instead of having the viewing at the funeral home, which we thought
was rather impersonal, given the circumstances, this was something that we
wanted to just share with our family and for our children to see that they had
a little brother and that their little brother lived and, you know, was a part
of this family, and they got a chance to see this little gift and remember him
for the rest of their lives.
GROSS: Senator Santorum, thank you very much.
Sen. SANTORUM: Yes. You're welcome.
GROSS: Senator Rick Santorum will speak Wednesday at the Republican
convention. He sponsored the partial-birth abortion ban.
Coming up, defending the right to abortion.
I'm Terry Gross, and this is FRESH AIR.
GROSS: Coming up, we talk with Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood
Federation of America, about some of the latest efforts to make all abortions
illegal. And Maureen Corrigan reviews "The Wasp Eater," the first novel by
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Interview: Gloria Feldt discusses her new book, "The War on
Choice," and the abortion debate
TERRY GROSS, host:
This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
In the first half of the show we heard from Senator Rick Santorum, who
sponsored the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban. My guest, Gloria Feldt, is the
president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. She describes that law
as `the culmination of a long strategy by right-wing extremists who have been
working ever since Roe to take away a woman's right to control her
reproductive destiny.' Feldt has written a new book called "The War on
Choice: The Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back." The
2004 Republican platform renews its call for a human life amendment to the
Constitution that would ban abortion.
What would a human life amendment in the Constitution mean, in your opinion?
Ms. GLORIA FELDT (President, Planned Parenthood Federation of America): It
would mean that a woman no longer has a right to her own life. The human and
civil right to make our childbearing decisions is the most precious and
fundamental right that we have. For a woman without that ability to determine
whether and when we bear children--and that works both in the having-children
and not-having-children perspective. If we don't have that ability to control
our own fertility, we don't have the ability to determine anything else about
our own lives. And, frankly, that means it's not a good policy for families,
it's not a good policy for children.
GROSS: What would it mean to have legislation that made it clear that the
14th Amendment's protections apply to unborn children, which has been in the
Ms. FELDT: Well, one of the dots that I'm connecting in "The War on Choice"
is how that initiative, which aims to give a fertilized egg from the moment of
conception rights that are equal to or greater than that of the woman,
undermines everything about reproductive rights and access to reproductive
health care, including many birth control methods, including the basic
principle that we have the freedom in the United States of America to make our
own decisions about whether and when to have children.
GROSS: In your political perception, do you think that this is likely to
happen, that there would be legislation making it clear that the 14th
Amendment's protections apply to unborn children?
Ms. FELDT: Well, I think you have to look at how close we are overall to
losing these fundamental human and civil rights to make our own childbearing
decisions, which go far beyond abortion and go toward the ability to have
sexual and reproductive rights of all kinds and deciding when to have
children, whether to have children or not to have children, whether to be able
to use birth control and what method of birth control to be able to use. The
Supreme Court today stands 5-to-4 ready to not just overturn Roe on whatever
grounds, and perhaps that will be the grounds, but perhaps it will be
something else. We're that close.
And it's important for people to understand that the president of the United
States appoints judges. The judges that are appointed to the lower federal
courts are deciding the majority of those cases. So it's not just who's
appointed to the United States Supreme Court. But one more anti-choice
appointment to the United States Supreme Court will tip the balance 5-to-4
against reproductive rights and access to reproductive health care. I don't
know what basis they might make that decision on, but it could be on the basis
of the 14th Amendment.
GROSS: If the fetus that a woman is caring has equal rights with the woman
who's carrying it, are there times that you would envision the health or
well-being of the two coming into conflict?
Ms. FELDT: Well, certainly. Look, I'm a mother of three, I'm a grandmother
of nine, a great-grandmother of one. I know what it is to be pregnant. I
know what it is to have hopes and dreams for your children. I know what it
means to love and nurture children throughout their lives. So I guess I come
at this from a very personal perspective as well as understanding some of the
science and law of it. And the fact is that, you know, there are always
values in conflict in these situations.
What I know from my 30 years of holding women's hands and understanding what
women go through when they make the decision about whether or not to carry a
pregnancy to term is that women can be trusted to make sound, moral judgments
about that. I mean, women do understand. And so that--there are values in
conflict, and the legal question is always ultimately one about: When does
the value of a fertilized egg become higher than the value of the woman in
whose body it resides and whose body it depends upon? In other words, even a
fetus, at any stage of pregnancy, is dependent upon the body of the woman for
its very life. So the woman and the life of the woman always have to have
And, by the way, there are vastly different religious points of views about
that as well. And the fact that we live in a pluralistic democracy means that
we need to understand and respect that different value systems and different
religions will approach that question differently, and, therefore, we should
not have laws that supercede that.
GROSS: The Republican Party has supported the appointment of judges who are
against abortion. How do you think that's been affecting the judicial system?
Ms. FELDT: The appointments that President Bush has made have been
devastating to reproductive rights and health care already, even though he
hasn't yet had an opportunity to appoint anyone to the United States Supreme
Court. The lower federal courts actually decide the overwhelming majority of
the cases that affect our lives every day in the tens of thousands every
year, as opposed to fewer than 100 cases a year that are decided by the United
States Supreme Court.
President Bush and his allies in the Senate have been able to push through
more judges than--certainly more than Bill Clinton was able to push through in
this time period and with much less opposition because much of that time the
same party has controlled the Senate as the White House, so that there have
not been those balances of power that usually exist in our government. The
upshot of that is that if President Bush has an opportunity in the next four
years to continue on this path, 11 of the 13 federal circuit courts of appeals
will be in solid anti-choice hands. And only one additional anti-choice
appointment to the United States Supreme Court could turn the balance there
from 5-to-4 in favor of Roe V. Wade to 5-to-4 opposed to Roe V. Wade.
GROSS: My guest is Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation
of America. She's written a new book called "The War on Choice." We'll talk
more after a break. This is FRESH AIR.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: My guest is Gloria Feldt, president of Planned Parenthood Federation
of America and author of the book "The War on Choice."
If you're just joining us, my guest is Gloria Feldt. She is the president of
Planned Parenthood and the author of the book "The War on Choice: The
Right-Wing Attack on Women's Rights and How to Fight Back."
You oppose the recently passed Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which allows
federal prosecutors to charge criminals separately for the crime against the
woman and the crime against the fetus the woman is carrying. Why do you
Ms. FELDT: We oppose that law because it doesn't do anything to prevent
violence against women, and that's why violence-prevention organizations also
oppose this legislation, incidentally. We are not alone in that opposition.
They understand that this law has a purpose, and its purpose is to give the
right of legal personhood to a fertilized egg from the moment of conception.
There is absolutely nothing in this law that enhances penalties against
someone who commits violence against a pregnant woman or against a woman at
all, and that's what we should be aiming for.
Many of the members of Congress tried to provide amendments, provide better
language that would enhance penalties that would further punish individuals
for that kind of violence against a pregnant woman. Incidentally, pregnant
women are about 20 percent more likely to be physically abused or murdered
than non-pregnant women. This law doesn't do anything to help that. It would
not have helped Laci Peterson, for example. But it is a brazen and blatant
attempt to attribute legal personhood to a fertilized egg from the moment of
conception, so that they can make the fertilized egg more important in the law
than a woman.
GROSS: The Partial-Birth Abortion Act, which was passed last year and
prohibits abortions in the second and third trimester, is something that you
strongly oppose. What is the procedure, and why do you oppose it?
Ms. FELDT: The abortion ban law, I think, is probably one of the most
misunderstood pieces of legislation, and that's deliberately so because from
the very beginning its proponents understood that they were not going to
outlaw abortion with this abortion ban. Instead, what they were trying to do
was to create a new language. They were trying to create a public relations
victory and to confuse people about what they were doing. And I must say they
have been somewhat success in that endeavor, although I believe we're all
beginning to understand better what they have been trying to do.
The abortion ban law, which was passed by Congress and signed by President
Bush last November, is a direct stake into the heart of the principles of
reproductive rights. And it outlaws abortions even as early as the beginning
of the second trimester for any reason. It outlaws a vague and undefined
range of techniques that doctors use in order to be able to provide the best
care for the patients, and by that I mean doctors are always trying to protect
the woman's health and her future fertility, her future ability to bear
children. So this law is unconstitutional under Roe. It's an almost--a
precisely identical law has already been overturned by the United States
Supreme Court. And, again, Congress knows this, John Ashcroft knows this,
George Bush knows this, but the Ashcroft Justice Department is aggressively
defending this law in spite of the fact that it is unconstitutional because he
hopes that by the time it works its way up to the Supreme Court, there will be
a different Supreme Court.
GROSS: Well, the law is currently not being enforced being of constitutional
challenges, including one in a federal court in California, which declared it
unconstitutional. So is it officially heading toward the Supreme Court now?
Ms. FELDT: The Justice Department has filed an appeal in the California case
that was where the law was found unconstitutional. That case was brought by
Planned Parenthood. So that one is already beginning to--that will now go to
the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, so it's beginning its trip to the United
States Supreme Court.
GROSS: So am I right in saying that right now that law is not being enforced
because of constitutional challenges?
Ms. FELDT: The abortion ban law is not being enforced right now because of
constitutional challenges to it.
GROSS: But what do you say to those who would argue that the abortions that
are done in the second and third trimester are barbaric because the fetus is
already partially formed; it more closely resembles what a baby would look
like upon delivery and the skull is crushed.
Ms. FELDT: Well, I suggest that people go back and read Roe V. Wade. What
Roe said is that in the third trimester and after fetal viability, states can
outlaw abortion, except to save the life or preserve the health of the woman.
And almost every state has done that. So you know what? The late-term issue
isn't even an issue. I think almost everyone agrees that if a woman's life is
in danger or if her health is egregiously compromised or if she is pregnant
with a fetus that has anomalies that are not consistent with life or if it has
died inside of her, you know, it ought to be a medical decision that she makes
with her doctor. But the abortion ban law doesn't touch that at all. It's
about striking a blow to the heart of the most fundamental right to make our
own childbearing decisions without political interference.
GROSS: On what grounds have the courts that have ruled the partial-birth
abortion ban unconstitutional? On what grounds have they ruled it so?
Ms. FELDT: The courts have ruled abortion ban legislation unconstitutional in
the past because the laws are unconstitutionally vague. It's hard for a
doctor--impossible for a doctor to know whether or when they're breaking the
law. It's also unconstitutional because there is no health exceptions, and
the courts have ruled over and over and over again that these are health
issues, that these are medical issues and that a woman's health has to take
precedence in every case. It also, in some instances, has been found
unconstitutional because it just strikes a blow straight to the heart of the
fundamental right to make our own basic childbearing decisions, as articulated
in Roe V. Wade.
GROSS: Let's step back a minute and look at the big picture. You have been
active in advocating a woman's right to choose abortion, active in advocating
good access to birth control for many years. What are some of the ways that
you have seen the battlefield, so to speak, change?
Ms. FELDT: I think it's important to, first, recognize all of the advances
that have been made because 100 years ago birth control was illegal in this
country. Women died regularly from the consequences of too-frequent pregnancy
and unsafe abortions. Just as in the developing world today, a woman dies
every minute from those same causes; that's what it was like here in the
United States 100 years ago. So, first of all, I think we should recognize
that we've come a long way. First birth control became legal, then abortion
became legal. Family planning funding was provided for low-income women who
couldn't otherwise have had access to it. The birth control pill, which
frankly saved my life as a young woman growing up in rural west Texas, as a
young mother of three--when the birth control pill came out, it completely
saved my life. So let's look at all the successes.
I think that all those successes in and of themselves have frightened people
who don't want women to have an equal place at life's table. And so there is
a huge backlash against it. There has been a hidden war on reproductive
rights. And right now while Americans are preoccupied with war elsewhere in
the world, this hidden war is even harder to expose because we just have many
other things on our minds. And we need to get the full picture of the
machinery that has amassed because every step since Roe V. Wade, which was
decided just over 30 years ago, has now been a step backwards. And that means
that if you are young, if you are poor, if you live in one of the 87 percent
of counties that has no abortion provider, your access to that particular
choice is very seriously limited. If you are young, if you are poor, if your
family planning program locally has been defunded, you may not be able to get
the birth control that would help you prevent that unintended pregnancy and
abortion in the first place.
GROSS: I know that some doctors who perform abortions have found that their
lives are in danger, that they are threatened. And at least one doctor was
killed because he performed abortions. Now what about you? You're the head
of national Planned Parenthood. Are there threats against you? Do you have
to be careful?
Ms. FELDT: I do take prudent care. I have had the range of threats to my
life and just pure simple nastiness and harassment. But I think I couldn't
possibly be doing more important work. And I think what people need to
understand is that those who oppose a woman's right to choose are so extreme.
I mean, there is an element of that group that are so extreme that they will
stop at nothing, even murder. I think that tells you a little bit. I mean,
murder in the name of life? Give me a break.
GROSS: In your book "The War on Choice," you write a bit personally about
your own life. And you say that in 1957, when you were young, you got
pregnant out of wedlock, you got married and six months later you knew the
marriage was a mistake. You had three small children by the time you were 20.
How does that experience affect your positions on birth control and abortion?
Ms. FELDT: Well, I believe, as the title of my previous book says, behind
every choice is a story. And certainly my passion for making sure that women
today and tomorrow will be able to have both the freedom to control their
fertility and the access to the birth control and reproductive health services
that make that freedom actually meaning, of course it comes from knowing what
life was without choice. In the 1950s, in rural west Texas, young women
weren't even encouraged to get an education, to have a career, to know that
there was--they had other value, that their life had value over and beyond
being a mother. As important as it is to be a mother and to be a good mother,
women's lives do have greater value than that, independent value from that as
well. And we weren't taught that, and that's one of the things I'm so
passionate about wanting young women to understand. And I think most young
women today do get that. But what they don't know is how close they are to
losing the reproductive freedoms that make them able to actually exercise
those other choices.
GROSS: Well, Gloria Feldt, I want to thank you very much for talking with us.
Ms. FELDT: Thank you, Terry. It's a pleasure to be here with you.
GROSS: Gloria Feldt is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of
America and author of the book "The War on Choice."
In the first half of the show we heard from abortion opponent Senator Rick
Coming up, book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the debut novel by William
Lychack you may have heard on the public radio program "This American
This is FRESH AIR.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
Review: William Lychack's novel "The Wasp Eater"
TERRY GROSS, host:
William Lychack's work has been featured in the collection "The Best American
Short Stories" and also on Public Radio International's program "This American
Life." His writer's resume is also distinguished by day jobs as a bartender,
janitor and Mister Softie ice cream man. Lychack's first novel, "The Wasp
Eater," has just been published, and book critic Maureen Corrigan has a
MAUREEN CORRIGAN reporting:
People sometimes ask me how I choose the books I review. In fact, last week I
got that question from a reporter, and I waxed eloquent about the novel that
had attracted my attention for this very review. A new book by a well-known
novelist, it promised to be an offbeat story that roamed over decades. I then
wrapped up my mini lecture on literary evaluation with this pronouncement: `I
look for stories that are freshly imagined.' I think we're all weary of those
elegant little debut novels about a dysfunctional family written by somebody
with an MFA.
Well, here we are a week later, and by the time I gave up on it after 75
pages, that ambitious novel by the prominent writer turned out to be forced
and fake while a dark horse of a slim, first novel about a family falling
apart written by William Lychack, whose MFA comes from the University of
Michigan, gave me a kick in my smarty pants with the force of its sad mood. I
also taken by the nimble way it evokes a sense of missed opportunities
experienced by limited characters, who don't have the language or temperament
to analyze what's gone wrong.
Lychack's book landed on my `take a look at this' pile in the first place
because of an enthusiastic blur by the wonderful novelist Charles Baxter and
because of its striking title, "The Wasp Eater." "The Wasp Eater" doesn't
rise above the literary subgenre of the dysfunctional family tale. Rather, it
fully achieves it, which only goes to prove once again the old maxim that
there are no intrinsically greater or lesser categories of fiction, just good
books and bad books.
Lychack's good book is set in 1979 in a Connecticut textile town, whose boom
years are long past. It's one in a series of what the third-person narrator
here calls `leftover kinds of places' that the story visits, including the Sea
Bottom Factory(ph) streets of Brooklyn and out-of-season, lakeside
campgrounds. In the uncanny opening scene of the novel, 10-year-old Daniel
Cussler comes home from school one afternoon and is told by his mother, Anna,
that, `Your father's not going to be home for dinner tonight.' That's it.
That's as far as Anna's maternal outreach skills go. She then proceeds to
make Daniel's familial world even stranger by draping her husband's clothes on
the branches of the trees in their yard and changing the locks to the house.
Not until a couple of days later does Daniel overhear his mother talking to
her adult niece on the phone, telling her about discovering Daniel's father,
Bob, in bed with another woman. `It wasn't the extramarital sex,' Anna says,
`but rather the grin on Bob's face that spelled quits for the marriage.' Bob
is an ex-Marine who works in town as a window washer. By turns of physically
menacing and a charismatic guy, he begins a roundabout campaign to win Anna
back by co-opting Daniel, visiting him in the dead of night, talking to him,
sometimes seductively, sometimes in a bullying low voice, through the dusty
bedroom window screen.
In between scenes devoted to these eerie nighttime visitations, Lychack's
narrative also wanders back to Anna's and Bob's courtship in Brooklyn. A
child of the hard-luck working class, Anna went into her marriage with
tempered expectations. Here's how the narrator describes them: `One day she
hoped they'd have a house by a river and fix it up nice, fill it with children
and dogs and cats. They'd stay up half the night sometimes drinking and
talking and playing cards with friends. If unhappiness had felt as solid and
permanent as a stone to her, then she imagined happiness would run through her
fingers like sand.'
Paragraph endings like that one grace "The Wasp Eater" with its tone of gentle
doom. Most of this novel seems to take place in half-lit rooms, shadowy scrub
forests and dark cars, as though everyone in the Cuzzler family is isolated in
their own pool of weak light. Daniel yearns to bring his atomized family back
together again, and midway through the novel he sets off on a brave, poignant
and stupid mission to do so. It's an act that deepens the significance of the
novel's odd title, but that's about all it accomplishes. Lychack never
overdoes the meaning or the melodrama here. Instead, his aim is small, so
small, in fact, that only a writer with his measured and very precise command
of language could attempt to achieve it.
In "The Wasp Eater," Lychack simply makes a reader feel the ordinary sadness
inherent in this whole business of trying to connect with other human beings.
GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. She
reviewed "The Wasp Eater" by William Lychack.
(Soundbite of music)
GROSS: I'm Terry Gross.
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