DO YOU FLUTTER your eyelashes and pretend to faint when considering a medical procedure? I didn't think so.

But that seems to be the view of the Supreme Court, as expressed in its most recent abortion rights decision, Carhart v. Gonzales, upholding the federal ban on intact dilation and evacuation, the procedure abortion foes have labeled "partial-birth abortion."

Curiously, the court upheld a restriction that will not safeguard a single fetus from abortion since the decision relies on the availability of other (sometimes less-safe) abortion methods.

Although the court said it was protecting the ethics and reputation of the medical profession, the decision will not protect doctors who may be forced to go against their best medical judgment as to the safest method for terminating a pregnancy.

And the decision doesn't protect those whose health may be at risk because a safer abortion procedure is now illegal. For the first time since Roe v. Wade made abortion legal everywhere in the United States, the Supreme Court has upheld a restriction on abortion that doesn't have an exception to safeguard a woman's health.

No, instead of protecting women's health, the Supreme Court has put itself in the business of protecting women's feelings. Ridiculous? Of course.

The majority of the Supreme Court justices contend that abortion can lead to depression, the so-called "post-abortion syndrome," and that Congress was just trying to protect women when it banned a safe abortion procedure.

Hogwash! There is absolutely no - nada, zero, zilch - reliable scientific evidence that women who choose abortion end up more depressed than pregnant women who decide otherwise, let alone women with unwanted pregnancies. Raising an unwanted child, or giving it up for adoption, is no day at the beach, either.

For a woman who is raped, abused, ill, too young, already having difficulty raising her children, or in any of a wide variety of circumstances that may cause her to choose to terminate her pregnancy, abortion may indeed be better for her mental health.

It should be obvious that the Supreme Court isn't really protecting women - it's keeping them from making an autonomous choice that may be better for their physical and mental health. Such an attitude smacks of paternalistic ideas that belong in another century.

Perhaps the court was relying on an earlier case in which it said:

"Man is, or should be, woman's protector and defender. The natural and proper timidity and delicacy which belongs to the female sex evidently unfits it for many of the occupations of civil life . . . The paramount destiny and mission of woman are to fulfil[l] the noble and benign offices of wife and mother."

Yes, once upon a time, women were "protected" from voting because it might expose them to the brutal world of politics. They were "protected" from admission to many colleges and universities to ensure that their rightful place with home and family would not be threatened, "protected" from owning property, "protected" from serving on juries, "protected" from working as many hours as a man, "protected" from entering professions like the law.

A decision resting on such a foundation is on thin ice indeed. And the sooner that ice cracks and that thinking sinks into the cold reality of women's equality, the better.

"Protecting" women from depression following an abortion could be used to justify virtually any other restriction on the right to choose. And don't think abortion foes won't try. They have the votes of Supreme Court justices not afraid to overrule precedent.

Unsafe back-alley abortions are 13 percent of pregnancy-related deaths worldwide, according to a World Health Organization report cited by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Now that's the kind of thing women need protection from. *

Deborah Leavy is a public policy consultant who contributes regularly to the Daily News. E-mail her at