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Pre-Born Pain and Political Cowardice

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By:Aaron D. Wolf | January 15, 2015

RedState.com is suggesting that the 114th Congress “may be the most pro-life Congress Washington has ever seen.”  Exhibit A is the reintroduction of the “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” (HR 36).  The bill, which has had many incarnations, most recently was passed by the House in the previous Congress, before dying in the Senate Judiciary Committee.  The House has already scheduled a vote on the new version—January 22, the 42nd anniversary of Roe v. Wade.

With new Republican majorities now in place, HR 36’s passage is as predictable as President Obama’s veto, which he promised on the last go-round.

Rep. Trent Franks (R-AZ) has pushed versions of this bill for several years, and he joins Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) in sponsoring it this time.  Naturally, the left is up in arms, and the Planned Parenthood Action Fund’s chief sorceress Cecile Richards has vowed to defeat it.  “The people of this country believe Congress should be focused on making people’s lives better,” Richards told HuffPo.  Obviously, the federal government has been improving women’s lives by protecting their right to kill their own offspring, even after those little ones have developed tiny eyelashes and taste buds.

That’s what happens in the days following Week 20 of gestation, the line in the sand drawn by the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act.  The legislation insists that “It is the purpose of the Congress to assert a compelling governmental interest in protecting the lives of unborn children from the stage at which substantial medical evidence indicates that they are capable of feeling pain.”  The baby’s pain, we are thus taught, makes his murder unjust.

Now, of course, the advantage of this approach is its political expediency: People who would normally oppose restrictions on “choice” might nonetheless stand up and object if the infant might actually feel it when he is stabbed to death.  Some lives saved are better than none, etc.  And even though this bill has a snowball’s chance in the Oval Office, it’s the right thing to do.  If we keep talking about the horrors of abortion, eventually, maybe, someday something might change.

“These are innocent and defenseless children who can not only feel pain, but who can survive outside of the womb in most cases, and who are torturously killed without even basic anesthesia,” Rep. Franks told LifeNews.  Hence the bill’s lengthy sections describing fetal development, including references to “substantial medical evidence,” which the New York Times has been kind enough to counter with its own string of experts and evolving opinions.  This includes Dr. Kanwaljeet Anand, who testified before Congress in 2004 regarding fetal pain in partial-birth abortions.  Now, even Anand admits to the Times that babies may experience pain as soon as 22 weeks.  But he thinks that statistically this isn’t a bother, because of the relatively few abortions that occur beyond 20 weeks.  (By the way, Guttmacher has it at 1.2 percent for 21+ weeks—a paltry 12,720 per year.)   In the spirit of first do no harm, Dr. Anand helpfully suggests that,

“In the very few abortions where fetal pain could possibly occur, . . . consider what can be done to avoid inflicting a lot of pain on the fetus.” He said a common method used after 20 weeks—injecting amniotic fluid or fetuses with heart-stopping medication before removing the fetus—“would be fine, really, from a point of view of fetal pain,” a “compassionate way to do it.”

Rep. Franks is no stranger to the media spotlight, thanks to an errant comment he made in 2013 regarding this very infant-pain legislation—namely, that the “incidents of rape resulting in pregnancy are very low . . .”  The occasion for that gaffe was his being grilled for not providing an exception for babies that are the product of rape and incest.

His point, Franks subsequently explained, was rational in its original context.  What he’d meant was that instances of rape and incest are always brought up by the left to inflame passions, but such passions are unfounded with regard to the proposed 20-week ban.  Most rape victims would likely be unaffected, because their abortions often occur before the sixth month of gestation.

Here’s were we plunge into the vile subtext of this bill.  The 2015 “Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” does not protect children conceived as a result of rape or incest.  In fact, following the much-reported Franks gaffe, exceptions for rape and incest were quietly added to the 2013 bill (the one that the House previously passed).

Exceptions for rape and incest are nothing new for GOP politicians.  Presidential front-runners are fond of declaring them (Bush III, Romney, McCain, Bush II, Dole, Bush I).  But politically, these exceptions appear as nothing more than futile attempts at mollifying the media, who are not oblivious to the obvious contradiction, and by making these exceptions candidates forestall any opportunity to speak clearly and morally on the topic of abortion.

Instead, it seems as though plain moral consistency on this topic cannot help but flummox otherwise pro-life politicians when confronted by the media.  “Just to be precise," CNN's Wolf Blitzer asked Rand Paul in 2013, "if you believe life begins at conception, which I suspect you do, you would have no exceptions for rape, incest, the life of the mother.  Is that right?”  Senator Paul offered a rambling, confusing response, which included the following:

I would say that each individual case would have to be addressed and even if there were eventually a change in the law, let’s say people came more to my way of thinking, . . . there would still be a lot of complicated things the law may not ultimately be able to address in the early stages of pregnancy that would have to be part of what occurs between the physician and the woman and the family.

Rape and incest are horrible, capital crimes, and no woman should have to endure them.  But they fall on a spectrum that includes lesser but equally real hardships that pregnant women endure, which are irrelevant when it comes to the question of fetal murder.  Like preborn children with genetic diseases, rapists' children, whose violent conception shrouds their young lives in shame, are branded as being somehow worthy of death.  The rapist says that his victim’s body may be violated at will.  The exceptionist says the same of that woman’s child.

What is particularly insidious about HR 36 is that its eugenic exceptions are prefaced by dramatic assertions of preborn pain.  How can one possibly make the case that infants capable of feeling pain should be protected from the abortionist's needle, only to turn around and except one particular class of infant?  This makes the political calculation all the more contemptible: Given the virtual impossibility of the bill’s signature by President Obama, its authors have nothing to lose, yet are insisting on public support for a rationale that violates consciences and would painfully violate the most vulnerable.

If we keep talking about the horrors of abortion in these muddled, morally confused terms, nothing will change.

Comments

 

 
Harry Heller
San Francisco
1/16/2015 02:59 AM
 

  Mr. Wolf poses a dilemma for me. Should I plunge into scalding water in the hope of educating or being educated, or maintain a discreet, but unprincipled, silence? I was commending and even cheering this article until the "vile subtext" portion, which I suspect, however, is the post's main point. Although my knowledge of the theology of reproduction and the family, as well as the history and sociology of modern abortion, is much less than Mr. Wolf's, I'm not certain the same relationship obtains WRT our respective understandings of the Anglo-American tradition of "liberty under law". Here goes ... ///// 1) I disbelieve in the possibility of fundamental law that is not ultimately theologically grounded (administrative laws, like speed limits, are different, of course). That theological grounding for me is Christian (esp. Catholic), and my understanding of it in this context is that a) the taking of innocent life is always evil (though there may be "conflict of lives" scenarios which complicate even this bit of absolutism - what if a mother's life really is at stake? does her life take precedence over that of the fetus?), b) that human personhood begins with conception, and c) no culpability can attach to a fetus (my impression is that this standard of absolute fetal innocence is another of the many blessings that the Church brought into the world's moral consciousness, even if it took many centuries for this new understanding to become widespread even in Christendom, as the West's history of the social and legal treatment of "bastards" reveals). Therefore, the act of abortion is almost always evil. 2) But must the Christian always seek to criminalize that which is evil? I'm not sure about this. [I think this would be a good topic for a special CHRONICLES issue.] There are at least two objections to an affirmative response. First, the distinction between what might be called "commissive" and "omissive" evils needs to be considered.

 
 
TJF
Carolopolis
1/16/2015 02:05 PM
 

  Aaron, I believe we both know that the reason nothing will change is that all these people--Rand Paul in particular--are simply politicians, whose job is to lie their way into power. The notion that such people actually hold principles or, for that matter, believe anything, is fantastical. Rand grew up in a libertarian political culture he took for granted and then, facing the reality of running for office in a state where he could snooker Christian voters, he had to shuck and jive on social issues that his very haircut reveals his lack of interest in. He's a freak from the Simpson's, Sideshow Bob without the brains. Maybe he will be the best candidate the Republicans can come up with--God help us!--and maybe we should vote for him. But believe anything he says? Good Gosh,I'd rather vote for Obama or Hilary. One does not need the benefit of hindsight to see through such implausible characters as Chuck Baldwin--remember that great white hope? Gone to Montana!--and Rand Paul. When will movement conservatives buy a mirror to get a good luck at the kick-me signs they have affixed to their backs?

 
 
Harry Heller
San Francisco
1/16/2015 02:37 PM
 

  (cntd) Where did I leave off last night? .... I think I was noting the distinction between commissive and omissive acts. All civilized peoples punish the former, but while a Christian will condemn the latter, in the Anglo-American tradition of jurisprudence we have not traditionally criminalized them. An example is in order. If an able-bodied man is relaxing poolside, and he sees a toddler fall into the water, clearly he would be thought a monster if he failed to rescue the child. But in our glorious Anglo-American legal tradition, he has no affirmative legal duty to aid, and thus failure to do so would not issue in legal sanction (morally, of course, one imagines the reprobate would have been severely socially censured). ///// Mr. Wolf, in good Christian fashion, properly observes that even the most horrid circumstances of a conception do not nullify the sacredness of the life conceived. I agree. But that isn't really the core issue in the Blitzer/Rand Paul exchange, is it? The issue there is whether the state should allow women who have been raped the option of choosing to abort the rapist's progeny (of course, whether a doctor should be forced to perform the abortion, or health insurers or taxpayers to pay for it, are entirely separate issues). Mr. Wolf responds by ontologically defending the embryo. The implication of his words, however, is that he would deny the option of abortion to a rape victim. How is such a position consonant with our historic understandings of liberty and culpability? The rape victim is not culpable for her pregancy. To use State power to deny her the option to remove the unwanted fetus from her body is literally to transform her into a reproductive slave. [The Left says that about any denial of abortion "rights", but they are idiots. A woman who engages in consensual carnal activity, unless she is mentally defective and therefore perhaps morally inculpable for her actions and their consequences, knows that she could get pregnant.

 
 
Harry Heller
San Francisco
1/16/2015 03:03 PM
 

  Thus, if she decides to "play", we may impute her implicit consent to "pay" should a third-party life arise from the activity. I think this is the correct moral grounding of the pro-life position, at least within the Anglosphere. The State, according to Christians, has a moral duty to protect all innocent life (or to be more precise, to criminalize the killing of innocent persons). But what is the justification for State punishment of mere omissive actions? Should a healthy man be punished at law for failing to rescue a drowning child? Monstrous as his omitting to act may be in the eyes of God and His community, I suggest that the very foundation of our freedom resides in that conception of the proper bounds of law which states that only direct (commissive) culpability should be legally actionable. We are held accountable for what we do, not for what we fail to do. Going beyond this, criminalizing men for failing to do something good leads very quickly to "positive" conceptions of freedom, from which it is but a hop, skip and jump to socialism and finally totalitarianism. ///// How does the personhood of the fetus inside a rape victim override the victim's non-culpability for her pregnancy? How can a woman in American be FORCED to bear a child for whose parasitical biological dependency she bears no responsibility? ///// Sen. Paul waffled as he did probably because he, as a libertarian, almost certainly agrees with the view I have enunciated. Yes, the fetus is a person and ought not to be killed, and a rape victim who carried an unwanted child to term out of moral duty should be considered a heroine. But so should be a woman who adopts a baby deposited in the night on her front porch. Can we say that the homeowner MUST adopt the abandoned infant? What's next? 20 years of education, lodging, 20,000 meals etc? Are we a free country with an impartial rule of law - or not? And why should Rand Paul, who is not primarily concerned about abortion detract from the rest

 
 
Harry Heller
San Francisco
1/16/2015 03:22 PM
 

  I just wanted to add that Rand Paul undoubtedly did NOT run for office out of a passion for sanctity of life issues, and probably just wants to move on to a different set of issues. And that is his right, morally as well as legally. Why should he jeopardize his career by taking an unpopular stand on an issue where it is at least unclear what the proper State response ought to be WRT rape victims who want to terminate their pregnancies. I dislike many aspects of Paul's "sell-outism", but I don't think he's being dishonorable here. ///// Anyway, I hope Mr. Wolf explains his justification for denial of an abortion option in the case of rape, and then how is conservatism differs from theocracy (if it does). Is conservatism at bottom Christian theocracy (say in the manner of the Reconstructionists)? How does the Christian citizen properly accommodate metaphysical pluralism in a 'diverse' society?

 
 
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