Friday, July 5, 2013

By Bits or Whole? Pro- Life Discord Risks Aim

Down in Austin right now, Texans on both sides of the abortion debate are getting ready for Round Two.

And in Washington, Florida Republican Marco Rubio intends to introduce a new pro-life bill in the Senate.

It all breaks out in earnest next week, when both representative bodies return to their respective capitols after this Fourth of July break.

Both of these pro-life legislative agendas revolve around the same concept:  banning abortions after twenty weeks.  In Texas, such a ban will almost certainly become law, since Republicans control both houses of the state's legislature, and only a shortage of time - combined with arrogant nit-picking by conservatives that backfired - delayed it previously.  Demonstrators on both sides of the issue will likely attract a lot of media attention starting this coming Monday, but for all practical purposes, the matter has already been decided.

Abortions will be illegal after twenty weeks.  And as a person who believes in the sanctity of life, I think that is a good thing.

But is it?  Is setting a date on the acceptability of terminating a fetus an appropriate way to fight abortion?  This being a heavily Republican state, the reasons why twenty weeks is the new pro-life benchmark haven't really been discussed, since Democrats can only put up symbolic resistance, but it's based at least in part on the trendy argument that twenty weeks is about the time when a fetus can begin to feel pain.

The science of fetal pain represents a hotly-debated field in the study of neonatal perception, in which experts are exploring the extent to which unborn children can utilize their senses.  For example, it's pretty much accepted that fetuses can hear well before they're viable outside of the womb.  But can they feel pain?  Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, a professor at the University of Tennessee, says they can, and Republicans in the U.S. House have used his research as proof material to support their successful passage of the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act in the U.S. House, which is serving as the model for Rubio's announced bill in the Senate.  One of Dr. Anand's proofs is that a fetus can recoil upon the introduction of negative stimuli, much like most post-birth animals do.  And why else would a fetus do that, except if that negative stimuli was causing pain?

It's an intriguing bit of research, and if true, provides still more insight into the marvel that is Creation.  But so far, fetal pain science is based more on theory than fact, and, while promising, it appears to be providing dubious ground upon which such contentious legislation is finding equally dubious support.  Depending on when a fetus can feel, what implications might that have for every pregnant woman regarding the types of physical exercise she performs, what she eats and drinks, and even whether or not a woman injured in an accident can claim pain and suffering benefits for her unborn child?

I've been generally supportive of these new pro-life measures that have reduced, albeit by only two weeks or so, the legal abortion timeframe.  Isn't any reduction in the space of time during which a woman can abort her unborn child a good thing?  Granted, most abortions happen far earlier in pregnancy, so these laws are only saving a few lives, but each life is worth it, isn't it?

But are these laws based on fetal pain a good way to craft legally-robust protections for the unborn?  Fighting abortion is a marathon, not a sprint, and has more to do with the mindset that opposes life than with the laws protecting it.  How might positing such unproven science in such a heated debate cultivate even further distrust, animosity, and vitriol against the pro-life cause by people whose souls we're to be as concerned about as the unborn's?  We've already seen how wacky pro-lifers can be on the subject, with Texas Republican Representative Michael Burgess claiming that, as a doctor, he's witnessed fetal masturbation, of all things.

Is that really an argument with which neonatal perception pro-lifers can convince feminist skeptics?

I'm not the only pro-lifer who's been uneasy with what's being called the "incremental" fight against abortion.  Hacking away by weeks at the availability of legal abortion still doesn't address the other twenty weeks or so that abortion is still a legally viable recourse for killing unwanted children.  Winning advances in the fight against abortion on the basis of unproven science is one thing, but it hardly paints pro-life advocacy with the greatest of integrity.

And this is where a group called Abolish Human Abortion comes in.  It's a bit difficult to determine the origins of this adamantly pro-life organization, or how large it is, or even how influential.  We do know that they've already rocked the delicate ecumenical pro-life boat with their sloppy diatribes against Roman Catholicism.  They're completely independent of any denomination or faith-based parent organization.  Their upside-down, faintly Nazi-ish logo has sparked derision from Daily Cos.  And, right as the fetal pain legislation is making big waves in American politics, they're coming out strong against it, claiming that incremental pro-life legislation is akin to brainwashing propagandizing by the Fabian Society, a socialist think tank in Europe.

Abolish Human Abortion (AHA) tries to set themselves on a plane above mere pro-lifers, claiming that while conventional pro-lifers will willingly acknowledge that abortion is a sin, they won't do whatever it takes to stop it.  So AHA'ers calls themselves "abolitionists," and take upon themselves the historic anti-slavery mantle of William Wilberforce, only now, in the fight against abortion.  Since they see ordinary pro-lifers as part of the problem, and not the solution, AHA has begun a campaign of picketing in front of evangelical churches whose congregations don't measure up to what AHA'ers consider proper anti-abortion activist abolitionism.

So, in effect, AHA sees itself as the purest foe of abortion, being both anti-pro-life and anti-pro-choice.

"As abolitionists, we make no compromises," they proclaim on their website, "nor do we adopt a moderate or incrementalist position when it comes to the abolition of human abortion. We believe abortion is the most vicious act of dehumanization and oppression ever practiced in human history, and we advocate for its immediate and total abolition."

Of course, if every life has dignity, then I'm not sure how any of us can pick any one specific murderous scenario and say it "is the most vicious act of dehumanization and oppression" in the history of the human race.  But then, this website is full of incendiary statements and militant imagery.

They have a lot of their own posters on their website, and one of them reads:  "There is a chasm in our culture between moral opinion and moral action.  Toleration is compromise, ignorance is complicity, and inaction is approval."

Ultimately, they portray everybody - even fellow evangelicals - as the enemy except themselves.

Meanwhile, few of the people I know who are pro-life are tolerant of, ignorant towards, or inactive in the fight for fetal life.  I think all of us pray, some of us volunteer at crisis pregnancy centers, a few of us are able to adopt unwanted children, and many of us vote pro-life.  But to AHA'ers, none of that is enough.

And certainly, to them, fetal pain legislation is practically treason against the cause, since it represents tolerance and compromise.  To pro-choicers, of course, it may also represent ignorance, since fetal pain legislation is based on fuzzy science, but it's been pro-life AHA that has surprisingly come out in opposition to the current twenty-week legislation.

Perhaps that's a noble position to take, but how productive is it, if eliminating abortion is the ultimate goal?  Two fewer weeks' worth of abortion - which is what most fetal pain legislation accomplishes - is better than zero less weeks', right?  Just because a European socialist group believes incrementalism is a good way to lull voters into a false sense of security doesn't mean that incremental pro-life legislation is from the pit of the Fabian Society.

Baby steps, remember, can be good things.

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