Last Thursday, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled against the wife of a Navy sailor who had aborted an anencephalic fetus. The woman, identified only as Jane Doe, thought that her military insurance plan should pay for the abortion. (Anencephaly, by the way, means no brain--and, in the case of Jane Doe's fetus, no skull. It is one of the conditions referred to in medicine as "incompatible with life.") The Northwest Women's Law Center, a non-profit group working to advance legal rights for women, represented Doe in court. Lisa Stone, executive director of the Center, commented, "The rational basis behind the prohibition on the termination of pregnancy is the preservation of potential human life. With an anencephalic fetus, there is no life. Therefore, it's irrational, and I would say cruel, to apply the restriction in a case like Jane Doe's." Read more here.
Like the debate around embryonic stem cell research, this case hinges on payment. That is, the government didn't prohibit Doe from having the abortion; it just said it wouldn't pay for it. Supporters of such policy decisions tend to say things like, "You may have a legal right to do it, but that doesn't mean the state has to support it." Sounds reasonable, on the face of it. Thing is, while scientists do have other options for finding money for hES research, the Jane Does of the world--even those lucky enough to have insurance--are on their own.