On Monday we discussed the recent proliferation of pro-abortion legislation and the gross shamelessness revelling in these bills. Such bills are being considered in Virginia, New York, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Vermont, which legalize abortions at any point in a pregnancy so long an undefined and broad “health” requirement is met. This culminated in Virginia governor Ralph Northam hinting it would be okay for a mother and physician to decide not to provide medical care to a newborn infant, and then Democratic Senators blocking the Born Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act (BAASPA), which would make that illegal.
As I festered in my anger over all of this, I began to wonder, why is this?
Fact: Late-term abortions are not popular. Democrats only touch the issue with gloves on, and only then in narrow circumstances. Abortion polling presents difficulties because the meaning of the terms in question are someone ambiguous. But the data show that while Americans support abortion during the first trimester, certain exemptions, and Roe v Wade, they consistently state opposition to abortion during the second and third trimesters.
It’s not close either. A Gallup aggregate found that two-thirds of Americans oppose abortion in the second trimester, and over 80% in the third. An annual report released by Marist found that 60% of Democrats favored limiting abortion to only the first trimester, cases of rape/incest, or when it was necessary to save the life of the mother. The same poll found that 60% of Americans favored a 20-week abortion ban.
The platform of the Democratic party, which is “continuing to oppose… federal and state laws and policies that impede a woman’s access to abortion”, is out of step with the American public. But when the 20-week abortion ban came before the Senate last year, it failed spectacularly.
So what political forces are preventing restrictions on abortion?
To answer this question, you need to understand the nature of the abortion debate. Almost everyone who cares enough about limiting abortion that it would be a determining factor in who they vote for, already votes Republican. The GOP doesn’t have to compete for these votes, and they aren’t forced to deliver results if they want to continue winning them.
On the other side, the Democratic coalition consists of the 15-20% of people who support abortion unequivocally, those who don’t feel strongly about the issue, and those who might legitimately support modest abortion restrictions but are put off by the Republican party. The only people in the Democratic coalition who seriously care about the party’s position on abortion are the abortion maximalists. The votes the Democrats would gain from moderating and rejecting the expansions put forth in states like New York are negligible, and defections from the pro-abortion camp might result in a net-loss if the party was to forsake abortion maximalism.
The result is one party that gains nothing from pursuing anti-abortion legislation, another party that gains nothing by moderating, and a stalemate at the status quo.
But I think there’s a deeper reason Democrats cannot give up any ground on this issue, even to the point of rejecting a bill affirming a newborn infant’s right to life. The policy of Ralph Northam, in which even a newborn infant has no right to life, is the logical extension of pro-abortion policy, and any ground they give up makes their position weaker.
Let’s say the BAASPA is passed, and we as a society look at any newborn infant and say, yes, we have an obligation to keep this child alive. This child has a right to life. The next question from those opposed to abortion is what separates a child born at 28 weeks, whose survival depends on the wonders of modern medicine, and a fully developed fetus at 40 weeks, who could be born at any moment. The answer is there isn’t. The Rubicon of “if it’s in her body, it’s her choice” will soon be crossed, and whatever the next line is, the supporters of abortion will be defending an increasingly arbitrary and unworkable position.
It’s not just political concerns about the larger abortion debate either. The belief that an infant has an inherent right to life is logically incompatible with the pro-abortion politicians. Don’t take it from me. Take it from Princeton ethicist Peter Singer, who said
“the liberal search for a morally crucial dividing line between the newborn baby and the fetus has failed to yield any event or stage of development that can bear the weight of separating those with a right to life from those who lack such a right, in a way that clearly shows fetuses to be in the latter category at the stage of development when most abortions take place. The conservative is on solid ground in insisting that the development from the embryo to the infant is a gradual process.”
Singer is no conservative either. The conclusion he draws from this observation is that infanticide ought to be legal. Not exactly my ideological friend.
Well okay, you might say, Singer’s a philosopher. Philosophers believe all sorts of weird things. But what about former California Senator Barbara Boxer, who said in 1996 “when you bring the baby home… the baby is yours and has all the rights.” Boxer, Northam, the problem isn’t what they said, it’s that they said it out loud.
Laid bare before us is the conflict of visions. One group of people in this country, including the abortion maximalists, believe that rights are arbitrary things granted to individuals by society. There is nothing “natural” about them, and they are supported by nothing but popular support. The other group holds the classical view – rights are unique and self-evident promises bestowed upon people by nature or nature’s God, and government exists to protect, not to confer, these rights.
Many people who support abortion are very nice people, who support the legality of abortion for understandable reasons, and probably find my extension of their beliefs unfair. But Singer is correct when he says there is nothing magical about birth that confers special status upon an infant a comparable fetus doesn’t have. Any affirmation of a right to life poses a risk of exposing the lack of philosophic support behind the abortion position.
Luckily for the pro-abortion crowd, most people don’t live their lives and formulate beliefs off of carefully considered and logically consistent philosophical maxims. This is the truth sustaining the pro-abortion movement and the inconsistency it masks is what prevents a nation that professes a commitment to a right to life from confronting the issue of abortion in any meaningful way.