There’s some debate in Christian circles over anger, and whether acting from anger is ever an acceptable way for a Christian to handle a situation. Some believe that anger simply runs contrary to the Gospel. Dallas Willard writes in his book The Divine Conspiracy that while there’s nothing inherently wrong about the emotion of anger, there’s “nothing that can be done with anger that cannot be done better without it,” and that “the answer is to right the wrong in persistent love, not to harbor anger.” Others would argue that anger is at times a useful motivator behind positive change, and only the spin-off vices of rage, bitterness, and wrath are actually problematic. After all, didn’t righteous anger lead Martin Luther King Jr. in the quest for justice?
The reason I bring this up is because so much of our politics is rooted in anger and fear. This happens on both sides, and while that sounds cynical, it’s not necessarily a bad thing, so long as the objects we anger or fear are worth being angry at or afraid of.
I still don’t like the politics of anger, as it leads to self-righteousness, not the necessary compromise essential in a pluralist democracy. But occasionally, something happens that is so offensive, irreverent, and deplorable I drink from the intoxicating cup of righteous indignation. In this state, I accept the premise that fighting is a virtue, because some people need to be beaten. Right now I am there, and it’s over abortion.
I’m about two-and-a-half weeks late to the party, but it began in New York, when on January 22 the state legislature finally succeeding in passing the Reproductive Health Act. The central plank of this law expanded abortion protections in New York after 24 weeks, which had been previously allowed only when the life of the mother was at risk. Now abortions can be performed after 24 weeks when “it is necessary to protect the mother’s life or health.” The last part is important. It also removed abortion from the penal code (more on this later), and it does the obligatory “abortion is a fundamental right and indispensable to women’s rights and equality.”
The outrage over the bill is over the clause about the patient’s health. To be fair to New York Democrats, this is the language used in Roe v. Wade. However, that is a court case, this is a law, and it’s imperative when writing law that you define what your terms mean. The RHA neglects to do that, and health is left undefined. In the existing law, from the case Roe v Bolton, a risk to a mother’s health can mean almost anything – physical, mental, emotional, familial, etc. This makes sense. Almost anything, especially motherhood, can be construed to present a health risk. Under this law, an abortion can be performed at any point so long as a physician can fulfill an incredibly vague health standard. In practice, it legalizes abortion up to the point of birth, which of course, was the goal all along.
But the bill itself is not actually what infuriates me. The day it was passed, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ordered the Freedom Tower, the monument to the victims of 9/11, be lit up pink in honor of the passage of this bill. That monument exists to remember the worst attack by a foreign adversary on our country in history, an attack that killed 3,000 innocent people and left over 400 first responders dead. It was an attack on us all, and that tower is mine as much as it is Andrew Cuomo’s. And this villain has the disgusting temerity to turn that monument, my monument, into a temple to honor a practice I find utterly and unequivocally abhorrent.
For those on the left to understand how obscene and degrading this is, imagine Donald Trump having the Statue of Liberty lit up a certain color after he got funding for his wall. It’s utterly despicable, and if the moral arc of the universe truly bends towards justice, Andrew Cuomo’s shamelessness will land him a spot among America’s great villains.
Which brings me to enraging thing number two, the state of Virginia.
Virginia is debating an abortion expansion similar enough to New York’s that I don’t feel a need to explain it in detail. While we’re on the subject, Rhode Island and Massachusetts are considering similar bills, and Vermont is passing one that goes even further. In Virginia, while debating this bill, its sponsor, a delegate named Kathy Tran, said that under her law, a physician could perform an abortion even when a woman was in the process of giving birth, provided the physician decides the mental health of the mother is at risk, which again, is a paper shield that means nothing in practice.
But it gets worse. The next day, Virginia governor Ralph Northam said on the radio he thought Tran was being taken out of context, and he hinted there could be “a discussion between the mother and physician” about whether to keep a baby alive…after it was already born. That’s abortion after delivery, also known as infanticide. If you think I’m taking him out of context, read what he said.
It gets even worse. As a response to Northam’s comments, Republican Senator Ben Sasse of Nebraska brought to the Senate floor the Born Again Abortion Survivors Protection Act. The main thrust of this bill mandates a baby born after a failed abortion is a full legal person, they are entitled to a full medical protection, and refusing to provide them care is a crime. Sasse asked for unanimous consent to expedite the process on this bill. Protecting the lives of newborn infants should be something we can all agree on?
Wrong! Senator Patty Murray (D-Wa) came onto the floor to declare her objections to the bill and then fled the chamber. Her argument, and of those defending her, takes three tracks. First, infanticide is already illegal. Second, third trimester abortions never happen for any reason except when a mother’s life is in danger. And third, the old cliche of “her body, her choice.”
Do any of these positions hold water? Obviously not! Their first argument is more complicated, so we’ll say it for last. First, nothing in the law in question has anything to do with the unborn. Read the bill. When Senator Murray says there’s nefarious abortion restrictions hidden in this bill, she is pants-on-fire lying. Second, it is true that only about 1% of abortions take place after 20 weeks, but even still, that’s a number in the thousands. The same study found five major reasons women get these late term abortions, all of which are sympathetic, but unlike the claims of the Patty Murrays and Ralph Northams of the world, none of them involve danger to a mother’s life. Regardless, it doesn’t happen very much isn’t an argument against late term abortion bans, and it’s not an argument against the bill in question.
But what about the claim this is already illegal and this bill is redundant? The answer is it’s complicated, but Murray’s claim is still mostly false. The Born Alive Infant Protection Act from 2002 does confirm that a born infant is a person with legal rights. But that’s it. Unlike Sasse’s bill, it does not mandate doctors provide medical care comparable to other infants, it doesn’t require doctors to report babies born after failed abortion attempts, and it doesn’t penalize doctors who fail to do so.
What about the states? There are only twenty-six states with statutes mandating a certain level of care for an infant born after a botched abortion attempt. A lot of these new laws, such as the RHA in New York, actually remove these statutes. So clearly, writing this bill off as redundant or unnecessary isn’t true, nor would that be a justification for voting against it anyway.
So what do we have here? Late-term abortion too barbaric for the Ancient Greeks, desecrating the Freedom Tower upon the altar of abortion, Governors hinting at infanticide, and a failure by Patty Murray and her Democratic friends in the Senate to accept the basic proposition infants born alive are entitled to medical care.
If you find factual errors in anything I’ve said, shoot. But if you look at the law, I don’t think you will. On Friday I’m going to try to explain why this is, but ponder this. There are certain things that if true would make our nation unworthy of our allegiance and devotion. Surely an inability to say that newborn infants are entitled to a certain level of medical care is near the top of that list. This is baseline stuff we should all agree on. If we can’t, something is seriously wrong.