Down From Radicalism
In the past week, the national conversation about abortion—which has simmered on low since the progressive brouhaha over the nomination of Justice Kavanaugh and the end of our national detente in the fight over abortion that it supposedly portended subsided—once again boiled over into the national spotlight. This resurgence of national interest in abortion finds its cause in three laws which are being considered at the state level, and one which has already been signed into law in New York, which have the effect of shifting the overton window of our discourse surrounding abortion sharply and abruptly to the left.
On Tuesday, Jan. 22, 2019, the New York State Senate passed, and Governor Andrew Cuomo signed into law, The Reproductive Health Act. This act makes a number of changes to the state’s laws concerning abortion, including removing abortion from the criminal code entirely and creating a right to an abortion under the auspices of New York’s Public Health Law. More to it, this new law allows a licensed abortion provider to conduct an abortion when the patient is “within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or health.”
Moving further to the south and to the left, Virginia Delegate Kathy Tran (D-42nd District) introduced the Repeal Act in the Virginia House of Delegates on Jan. 9, 2019. This bill eliminates the requirement that abortions taking place during the second trimester occur in a hospital, and the requirement that an ultrasound be performed before a mother gives written consent for an abortion. Worse still, the bill decreases the number of medical professionals who need to certify that a third trimester abortion is medically necessary from three to one, and removes the previously existing legal requirement that the projected harm caused to the mental or physical health of the mother justifying a third trimester abortion be “substantial and irremediable,” thus empowering the patient’s abortion provider to unilateral certify the presence of one of the aforementioned criteria for a third trimester abortion.
Increasing in radicalism from Berkeley to Stalingrad, Rhode Island’s Reproductive Health Care Act—introduced to the Rhode Island House of Representatives on Jan. 16, 2019—not only repeals the State’s requirement that a women notify her spouse before aborting their child; not only repeals the State’s prohibition of partial birth abortions, a procedure that is violent and graphic and barbaric; not only removes willfully killing an unborn child from the State’s criminal code—but also renders abortion legal before the point of fetal viability for any reason or no reason and renders abortion legal after the point of fetal viability if, you guessed it, it is necessary to “preserve the health or life” of the mother.
And finally, from Stalingrad to the darkest recesses of Margaret Sanger’s eugenicist mind, the Vermont House of Representatives is considering a measure which would establish an absolute right to abortion—a right irrespective of the situation or motivation of the mother or the stage of development of her child. The bill reads in part, “Every individual who becomes pregnant has the fundamental right to choose to carry a pregnancy to term, give birth to a child, or to have an abortion” and “a fertilized egg, embryo, or fetus shall not have independent rights under Vermont law.” This bill was introduced by ninety one state representatives, a full sixty percent of the lower house of the legislature.
For context, let’s take a step back and look at the timeline of fetal development. At the
fifth week of a pregnancy, a baby’s heart starts beating. At ten weeks, the embryo has become
a fetus. Various facial features have started to develop, and various vital organs are starting to
function, including the kidneys, intestines, brain, and liver. At the twelfth week, the tail end of the
first trimester, you can hear a baby's heartbeat at a prenatal checkup.
At the fourteenth week, the beginning of the second trimester, a baby can make facial expressions and may have recently discovered thumb-sucking. Between the sixteenth and twentieth week, a mother will have her mid-pregnancy ultrasound, during which the doctor may be able to determine the child’s sex. Around this time, the mother will start to feel her baby move. At twenty-seven weeks, the very end of the second trimester, the baby is sleeping and waking at regular intervals, opening and closing its eyes, and sucking its thumb.
At the twenty fourth week—the last week of the pregnancy where a mother in the state of New York, under the newly enacted Reproductive Health Act, can get an abortion no questions asked—the baby is typically almost a foot long, likely weighs a little over a pound, and is developing taste buds and growing hair.
At the start of the third trimester, the twenty eighth week, the baby is dreaming. At thirty four weeks the baby’s lungs and central nervous system are developing. At thirty-seven weeks the baby is considered early term. Most babies born at this time are healthy. At thirty-nine weeks, the baby is considered full term and is ready to be born.
If you remember nothing else from this article, please remember this: all four laws outlined above—the one passed in New York and the three being considered in Virginia, Rhode Island, and Vermont—allow children to be aborted at any point in this timeline.
It is ostensibly true that in order to have an abortion after the twenty-fourth week in New York, during the third trimester in Virginia, or after the point of fetal viability in Rhode Island, a mother needs to demonstrate that the abortion is necessary to protect her life and health. But of course, while there are some medical procedures which may be necessary to preserve the life of a mother that may result in the abortion of a child still in the afflicted mother’s womb, an abortion procedure is never necessary to protect a mother's life.
And by the way, it isn’t just me saying that abortion is never necessary to preserve the life of the mother. It is also Alan Guttmacher, the former President of Planned Parenthood and successor of Margaret Sanger, who said “Today it is possible for almost any patient to be brought through pregnancy alive, unless she suffers from a fatal disease such as cancer or leukemia, and if so, abortion would be unlikely to prolong, much less save the life of the mother.” and Dr. Bernard Nathanson, the co-founder of the pro-choice group NARAL turned pro-life advocate, who said “There are no conceivable clinical situations today where abortion is necessary to save the life of the mother. In fact, if her health is threatened and an abortion is performed, the abortion increases risks the mother will incur regarding her health.”
Additionally, consider the difference between a threat to a mother’s life and a threat to her health. The bill in Virginia explicitly includes protecting a mother’s mental health, along with protecting her life and physical health, in the list of criteria for a legal abortion during the third trimester. The law in New York and the bill in Rhode Island do not cite mental health specifically, but neither do they cite physical health specifically, opting instead to allow abortions after the twenty-fourth week and after the point of fetal viability respectively if the health of the mother is in danger. Is mental health included in “health?” Is anxiety over having to carry to term a child whom you do not want a threat to your mental health? Who knows.
Pro-lifers are often accused of grounding their political objections to abortion in their religious views, but I am not here to discuss religion. I am not really here to argue in favor of the pro-life position, either. I am here to try to figure out where the left-most endpoint of the range of acceptable public discourse is on the subject of abortion.
I understand the rationale for the pro-choice position. I understand that absent a religious worldview it is not obvious that life begins at conception or that the, if you’ll pardon the progressive cliche, “ball of cells” which exists during the first couple of weeks of a pregnancy is constitutive of a fully-fledged human life. I believe that life begins at the moment of conception, and that from that point on a unique and individually valuable human life exists which is entitled to statutory protection, but I understand where those who disagree are coming from.
What I do not understand is how some people can say, with a strait face, that a fetus is not a human life when its heart starts beating, or its brain starts developing, or its organs start functioning, or it starts moving, or its mother is going into labor.
I can make sense of a public discourse that debates whether or not abortions ought to be permitted until the fifth week of a pregnancy, or until a heartbeat can be detected, or some other physiological desideratum. What I cannot make sense of, however, is an elected official actually suggesting, as delegate Kathy Tran of Virginia did on video, that abortion should be legal even when the mother is showing signs that she is going into labor. I cannot understand how Virginia Governor Ralph Northam, of med school KKK/blackface picture notoriety, can say that as a result of a law which he has publicly endorsed, “If a mother is in labor, I can tell you exactly what would happen. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired, and then a discussion would ensue between the physicians and the mother.”
Put aside for the moment the moral repugnance is this statement taken in aggregate and look at the language Governor Blackface uses. The infant would be delivered. The infant would be kept comfortable. The infant would be resuscitated if, IF, that’s what the mother and family desire. Governor Northam concedes that he’s talking about an infant—meaning a living, breathing child—and yet sees no problem with killing that infant. I understand the pro-choice position, but isn’t having the option to hold your child in your arms while deliberating with your physician about whether or not you should abort it at least one choice too many?
Again, the purpose of this article is not to advance my own prefered policies regarding abortion, but merely to suggest that the range of socially acceptable views one can hold about abortion needs to be seriously reconsidered. In Ohio, for example, newly elected Governor Mike DeWine has announced that he will sign legislation banning abortions once a heartbeat can be detected. You may think that this legislation is too restrictive, but surely it can’t be denied that this law is reasonable and grows out of a serious desire to balance the rights of mothers with the constitutional obligation to preserve the rights of all people—including the unborn.
It may seem like the realignment of public discourse that I am suggesting would disproportionately diservice pro-choice progressives and the Democratic Party which they call home. Let me suggest, however, that a moderation of its views on abortion would be a great
boon to the Democratic Party electorally. I for example, a fiscal conservative disenchanted with Republican politicians who have libertarian tongues but statist hearts, could very well see myself voting for a blue-dog Democrat in the mold of Jim Webb, or even a slightly more progressive but still fiscally responsible Democrat like Howard Schultz, if either of them or Democrats like them were to moderate on the issue of abortion. I cannot, however, vote for any candidate for office who holds views on abortion as radical, heterodox, and barbaric as do the democrats who are sponsoring all of the legislation discussed above.
In closing, let me say two things. One, Senator Ben Sasse (R-NE) has, in the aftermath of Virginia Governor Northam’s odious remarks outlined above, announced that he would be asking for unanimous consent for his Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act, which would protect children who survive abortions and are born. For each Democratic senator to go on the record as being against killing a child who has already been born would hardly have be a sign of moderation; but the passage of the measure 100-0, as would be required under the rules of unanimous consent, would have send a clear message about the need to establish outward boundaries of acceptability in our national abortion debate. Only one Senate Democrat showed up to the vote, and he stayed only long enough to the measure down. I guess we know how Senate Democrats feel about killing already-born children.
Second, although I said that I was not going to argue against abortion per se or invoke religion to make my point during this article, I feel compelled to say as a practicing Catholic and a person who values and respects human life, for of all of the innocent children who have been killed by abortion since the decision in Roe v. Wade nearly a half-century ago and for all those who will be killed as a result of the measures discussed above: may the souls of the faithful departed, by the mercy of God, rest in peace.