Abort the act

Tucked into the $338 billion appropriations bill that Congress approved a few weeks ago was something called the Abortion Non-Discrimination Act—an Orwellian title if ever there was one. The bill, which was inserted quietly by the Republican majority, does not protect women seeking abortions from discrimination. On the contrary, the act actually legalizes discrimination, allowing any hospital, physician or health insurer to refuse to perform or pay for abortions or even to tell pregnant women of the option.

That could have a huge impact, especially in rural communities, where any hospital chief could order an end to abortions in his or her facility. And it allows an employer to select a health insurer that doesn’t pay for employees’ abortions.

Slowly but surely, the edifice of rights and services on which women’s access to abortion depends is being destroyed. In April, President George W. Bush signed the Unborn Victims of Violence Act, which lets federal prosecutors bring separate homicide charges if a pregnant woman and her fetus are killed. Ordinarily, murder is a state crime. So, clearly, the real purpose of the act is to grant legal rights to fertilized eggs.

And last year, Bush signed the Partial Birth Abortion Ban Act, a bill that since has been ruled unconstitutional by three federal judges. Appeals are pending. Nobody disagrees that partial-birth abortions can be grisly procedures, but the truth is that they occur rarely and almost always because of fetal anomalies or because the mother’s life is in danger.

There’s more: A gag order the president signed shortly after taking office prohibits family-planning agencies from even mentioning the abortion option, under penalty of loss of funding. And the new “Non-Discrimination Act” allows health corporations to impose that same gag order on doctors and nurses.

A peek into the legislative pipeline reveals that dozens more such bills are on their way. Even if Roe v. Wade isn’t overturned—and that’s far from guaranteed—women soon will find it even harder to get abortions. The way things are going, the service simply won’t be available.

Just leaf us alone

That medical marijuana eases the symptoms of many illnesses is unquestionable. And as long as there are patients for whom marijuana does ease pain and suffering, medical marijuana should be legal in states like ours, where voters have approved it.

The federal government should back off. It is time to take pot off the enemies list in the never-ending war on drugs. Now, the U.S. Supreme Court has a chance to do so, as, in the coming months, it considers the use of marijuana for medical reasons. Let us hope the justices do the right thing.