Editor’s note: Michael Ackley’s columns may include satire and parody based on current events, and thus mix fact with fiction. He assumes informed readers will be able to tell which is which.
The essence of a judicial ruling often is not to be found after the words “therefore we find,” but buried in the dicta, those philosophical meanderings that disclose the judge’s thought processes.
Naturally, a decision does not spring, fully reasoned and written, from a justice’s pen. There are drafts and redrafts before a decision is issued, and these drafts may provide a clearer view of the judge’s reasoning than the final version.
So it is in the case of Planned Parenthood v. Ashcroft. As you probably have read, Judge Phyllis Hamilton ruled in this matter that Congress’ partial-birth abortion ban was too vague and that doctors not might recognize they were violating the law.
We prevailed on her court clerk, Howard Bashford, to slip us a copy of one of her drafts, wherein we find the following wording, which is much more accessible than the published opinion, cumbered as it is with legal jargon:
“It’s very possible that a doctor – perhaps under time constraints or simply the pressure of performing surgery – might not realize that he has delivered all of a baby – that is to say, fetus – but its head, and might not realize he is about to suction out its brain to facilitate complete delivery.
“It is unreasonable to expect physicians to be aware at all times that they might thus be in violation of the law.”
Asked how anybody could be confused about this, Bashford – like all good clerks – became defensive about his boss.
“Her honor is a fine jurist who follows the law,” he said, “otherwise President Clinton wouldn’t have appointed her.”
Then there was the president of Planned Non-Parenthood, Gloria Feldt, who said the Bush administration had “squandered vast amounts of U.S. tax dollars to appease anti-choice extremists and fulfill and ideological agenda.”
One presumes these extremists include 282 members of the House of Representatives – including 62 Democrats – representing about two thirds of the nation’s population, and 64 U.S. senators, including 16 Democrats, who voted for the partial-birth abortion ban.
Sen. John Kerry was one of three senators not voting. We asked his spokeswoman, Amy Handleman, to explain why the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee, a champion of women’s “right to choose,” didn’t weigh in when it counted.
“You’re right to say he’s a champion of women’s right to choose,” said Handleman, “as he has repeatedly made clear.
“But the senator can count, and he realized his ‘no’ vote would be useless symbolism. Besides, if he advocates abor … uh, choice, but doesn’t vote for it, he still can take Holy Communion, a sacrament that means so much to him.
“Of course, the religious morality to which he has pledged adherence never would affect his political views, which are a different thing entirely.”
The “duh!” quote of the week comes from film director Harry Thomason, who has made a “documentary” about the right-wing effort to destroy Bill Clinton. Said Thomason, “Of course, the fact that I’m a friend of the Clintons will make a lot of people skeptical …”
File this under “You Don’t Say!” … Reader John McClain of Vanceboro, N.C., links a past column on California’s hare-brained fractional vote proposal with the abortion issue. He writes, “Let me see, now. As an adult is a citizen with the right to vote, an adolescent is a citizen with a partial right to vote, based upon a proportional connection to adulthood, but a baby isn’t a baby until after the ‘fetus’ has been delivered and the parents have accepted it as a child … Thankfully, our institutes of higher education teach a strong program of using logic in everyday problem solving.” Record us as thankful for readers like Mr. McClain and many others, who provide wisdom and inspiration.
Finally, we come to J. Frank Vespa-Papaleo, New Jersey’s director of the state Division on Civil Rights, who ruled a bar’s ladies’ night illegal because discounted drinks weren’t offered equally to men. Vespa-Papaleo is expect to rule, however, that a department store’s two-for-the-price-of-one brassiere sale is not discriminatory, because men are as free as women to buy bras.