By Cheryl Bauer
As a middle-school student in the mid-90’s, I was introduced to the pro-life movement by a Catholic friend. She enlightened me to the grisly process of partial-birth abortion, and explained how the act of aborting a pregnancy at any time after conception was nothing short of murder in any case. The pro-life movement, as explained to me then, was not just about changing women’s minds from terminating pregnancy. Eugenics, the death penalty, genocide, and physician-assisted suicide were all topics of concern, actual threats to the sanctity of human life and early steps down a slope that was foretold to end up with government-sanctioned extermination of people. Our generation’s holocaust.
I carried these ideals in my heart for decades. In 2003, the United States banned partial-birth abortion and the movement’s attention shifted fully to the full repeal of Roe v. Wade. The best hope for the cause was for a conservative Supreme Court to hear a case for repeal. While an ostensibly noble notion – if abortion is murder, and murder is illegal, shouldn’t it follow that abortion be outlawed? – there is no consideration for the very real tragedies that occur in thousands of pregnancies each year which necessitate the decision to terminate. However, with Trump’s appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court in 2018, their hope could become reality.
Trump is hailed as a champion of the pro-life movement since aligning his campaign with evangelical leaders who guided his rhetoric. In his 2019 State of the Union address, he proposed the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a federal ban on abortion past 20 weeks gestation. While 20 states already have similar bans in effect, the scientific evidence cited in support is questionable. In 2005, research published in JAMA shows that the pathways required for the fetal brain to perceive pain are not complete (meaning the sensation of pain cannot reach the brain) until the third trimester, approximately 27 weeks gestation. Developing fetuses are capable of reflexive movement earlier, but since the experience of pain is subjective, it cannot be measured in any meaningful way. Even so, Utah has implemented legislation requiring that anesthesia be administered to a fetus prior to abortion if necessary after 20 weeks. With a threat to the rights afforded women to consult with their doctors and make an informed decision about their health and looming life, states are taking it upon themselves to ensure their agency. New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island have all received attention recently for proposed measures to protect women’s rights and access to abortion within the scope of current federal law. Countless women affected by tragedy late in their very wanted pregnancies have come forth to explain why and how women arrive in a position that necessitates the decision to abort – stories of fetal demise in states with prohibition and the mothers who must carry their deceased children to term and deliver a dead child; mothers who, after learning of fatal genetic defects, are forced to watch their child suffocate in their arms minutes or even hours after delivery. These are realities that humans face, and should be allowed to address in whatever manner deemed appropriate for the family in consultation with their doctor.
Pro-life advocates tell a very different story. Despite the 2003 federal ban, opponents claim that New York’s law will allow partial-birth abortion to become legal again, that women can abort healthy babies on a whim, and that babies born alive after an abortion procedure is performed would be killed. A cursory review of the actual law shows that these are all fabrications – fears nonetheless stoked by the retelling of stories of doctors like Kermit Gosnell. Gosnell was tried along with several associates after investigations into his practice revealed that he failed to provide counsel to patients, violated patient’s rights to consent for procedures, was responsible for the deaths of several women in his care, and of killing at least three babies born alive when abortions were unsuccessful. Gosnell was convicted in 2013 of multiple murder charges, involuntary manslaughter, and over 20 lesser charges in violation of Pennsylvania’s Abortion Act, which prohibits abortion after 24 weeks gestation, and sentenced to three consecutive life sentences. While his story is indeed horrific, it is an extreme example of why abortion must remain legal and well-regulated.
The fight to repeal Roe v. Wade must be abandoned not in spite of the pro-life agenda, but in full support of it. We must advocate for the lives and rights of women to determine what is appropriate for their bodies and families. We must advocate for a society and planet that support the upbringing of children with adequate nutrition, childcare, education, and healthcare available to all, and we must support and install leaders who practice peace and reject the call to engage in violent actions and wars to resolve conflict. If we cannot do this, we cannot ever claim to be pro-life.
Cheryl Bauer is an active member of the Editorial Collective at the Thomas Merton Center
(TMC newspaper VOL. 49 No. 2 March 2019. All rights reserved.)