Last week, I wrote about the need for the pro-life movement to be very smart. An example of the movement being both more smart and less so manifested itself in Indiana which passed a law banning abortions undertaken on account of fetal abnormality.
This law was smarter than most abortion restriction laws because it focused on something real. Too often, when Republicans take control of a state legislature, they pass laws that require abortion clinics to meet certain building code requirements. The aim is to shutdown abortion providers, many of which lack the funds to undertake a major construction project. But, the laws are justified by their proponents as efforts to protect women’s health. No one buys that, and so while the laws may be enacted, and they may even pass constitutional muster, they do nothing to advance the pro-life cause. Indeed, by being so disingenuous, I would argue they are counter-productive.
The Indiana law instead argued that people with disabilities are people nonetheless, and it is wrong to target them in utero for destruction, so it banned abortions procured after the mother discovers her unborn child suffers from some form of abnormality. I am not sure how this would play out in real life. Wouldn’t people simply lie? But, however it plays out, the law makes us ask ourselves: What does it say about our country that we have made such strides in protecting the rights, and promoting the opportunities, of people with disabilities, yet we stand aside as many unborn children with disabilities are killed?
Back when I was researching my first book, Left at the Altar: How the Democrats Lost the Catholics and How the Catholics Can Save the Democrats, I recall researching public opinion polling on abortion before the Supreme Court’s ruling in Roe v. Wade. I was shocked that large majorities of people believed fetal abnormality should be considered a justifiable reason for an abortion. To me, that seemed a rationale that is drenched in eugenic thought. And, indeed, a majority of women who discover their unborn child has Down’s Syndrome choose to abort their child. Some studies indicate the percentage may be as high as 90 percent. Yet, we all know a family with a Down Syndrome child and we know also that the child is usually the nicest member of the family. Anyone who has ever volunteered at Special Olympics knows that people with Down’s Syndrome can lead fulfilling lives. We should, as a society, be asked why, then, we tolerate abortion for children with fetal abnormalities.
The problem with the law, however, is that it made no provision for additional assistance to the mothers and families who are expecting to have a child with disabilities. In an article in this Sunday’s Outlook section of the Washington Post, an obstetrician/gynecologist, Dr. Katherine McHugh, wrote, “In families with limited incomes and restricted resources, these children may not receive the care and attention they deserve, again increasing their suffering.” Okay. Point taken. So, let’s make their incomes less limited and find ways to unrestrict their resources. Passing a law that some people view as punitive, without taking steps to ameliorate the circumstances, is bad public policy and truly bad politics. It plays right into the hands of those who think we in the pro-life movement only care about children before they’re born and don’t care so much once they have been born.
In that same essay, Dr. McHugh put forward some arguments that illustrated how superficial and lousy the pro-choice rhetoric has become. Her central thesis and the subtitle of the article is: “Lawmakers have no place in an obstetrician’s exam room.” I seem to remember that same argument being made by conservative Republicans when they were opposing the Affordable Care Act. And, of course, the government is already in every doctor’s exam room. I have never been to Dr. McHugh’s exam room, but I am betting somewhere there is a state-issued license to practice medicine. I am betting there s also a diploma or two on the walls, all of them from schools that are accredited by a state agency or proxy for the state, like an accrediting association. I am sure the doctor is aware that she is legally forbidden from mutilating her patients, or giving them drugs they do not need. I am sure the doctor’s staff fills out reimbursement forms for either Medicaid or health insurance plans procured through the ACA’s exchanges. So, the government is already there and as much as doctors may like to think they are answerable to no one, like every other person, they are answerable to the laws of the land.
I also linked to an article by Mark Silk last week in which Silk said Donald Trump committed a Washington gaffe when speaking about punishing women who have procured an abortion: “when some politician tells the truth – some obvious truth he isn’t supposed to say.” Silk states: “If you think abortion is murder, it’s a lie to pretend that every woman who gets one is an innocent victim.” Not so fast. As I noted last week, the pro-life movement will never succeed until it is unquestionably pro-women. The fact that it is not so perceived allows Silk to raise this objection. In fact, what differentiates abortion from, say, the murder of a homeowner killed in the course of a robbery is that we sympathize with the woman and her predicament and we don’t so sympathize with the burglar. When pro-life people simply say “abortion is murder” they do a disservice to the pro-life cause by lumping abortion with other murders when this fact, our sympathy with a woman facing a crisis pregnancy, distinguishes abortion. As in the case of the Indiana law, we need to find better ways to help women so that an unplanned pregnancy does not so quickly become an unwanted, still less an unaffordable, pregnancy.
The pro-life movement needs to take a step back from these legislative battles in the states and legal battles in the courts, and think about how to reach out to people who, like Dr. McHugh, are clearly good people who spend their lives helping women yet who have certain blind spots. We in the pro-life movement need to think about how we discuss this issue. For example, in the face of legal challenges that seek to force Catholic hospitals into providing abortion, we can say: We will never perform an abortion. This is true. But, is it not better to say: At a Catholic maternity ward, we take care of both patients. Sen. Sanders justifies his call for a single payer health care system by citing Europe, but will someone ask him why, then, he does not support the 20 week abortion ban which is still far less restrictive than one finds in Europe, where most countries ban abortion after 12 or 14 weeks. Most of all, we should insist that any restriction on abortion is accompanied by legislation aimed at helping women facing a crisis pregnancy. No, we don’t think they should be punished. We think they should be helped, and helped as much as it takes for them to be less worried about the crisis and more happy about the pregnancy.