Views from the Right column: What we never talk about
I swore never to address abortion in this column. But since the passage of New York State's Reproductive Health Act, I can't remain silent. New York became the eighth state with no legal gestational restrictions. If every legislator who voted for the law had first witnessed the killing of a 39-week-old fetus, I guarantee their votes would have been different.
Medical science and cultural norms have changed significantly since 1973, when the U.S. Supreme Court made early abortion legal via its Roe v. Wade decision. I believe both factors had an impact on judicial thinking at the time. Establishing developmental trimesters was an outcome of how inaccurate the understanding of fetal life was. But a line had to be drawn between acceptable and unacceptable termination.
Before 20 weeks of gestation, or what was called "quickening" (movement felt by the mother), the developing child was depicted as an insensitive mass of cells. Late term abortion was considered a rarity, though no statistics proved that. The expectation for it to remain rare was flawed. Subsequent investigations into unregulated abortion clinics revealed a different reality.
My generation was the first to take advantage of the new form of birth control. It spared many women from revealing sexual activity outside of marriage that only friends could understand. Early abortion became a backup for the failure of contraceptive efforts.
The limitations of pregnancy back then have been nearly forgotten. Termination from jobs at 28 weeks of gestation was legal. Companies could demand doctors' estimates of conception dates in order to prepare in advance for new employees. Refusal to comply could mean immediate firing.
Employers wanted to avoid any health risks of late pregnancy and having to modify tasks accordingly. Policies were supported by society's expectation for mothers to remain home with children. Parental leave wasn't a gleam in anyone's eye.
Prior to Roe, society also shamed women who ventured unprepared into situations that could result in conception, including rape. Unplanned pregnancies led to some miserable marriages because male abandonment and children without legal fathers were a double pox upon women.
Unmarried women could remain housebound until giving birth, or live elsewhere. Home one day and gone the next, they stayed with far away relatives or in facilities for those who didn't adhere to social norms. Millions of babies were adopted out.
Roe v. Wade made even more relevant the generational mantra for freedom from reproductive slavery via "the pill." You've come a long way, baby, a cigarette advertising slogan, meant the Dark Ages had passed. Back alley and coat hanger abortions, along with shame, were no more.
Few women planned to terminate pregnancies beyond 16 weeks. The Roe decision was concerned with protecting doctors from legal liability and avoiding late term safety issues. Legal, rare, and safe conditions were to encourage early abortion--sadly, a miscalculation.
I sat with a number of friends after their no-harm-intended abortions. They were supposed to feel resurrected, relieved, and grateful. They didn't. They beat themselves up, thinking they could never forgive themselves for their decisions and wondering what the children, who were no more, might have become. They cried on every abortion anniversary.
Then, and decades later, I knew of no one who cared about these women who also condemned them. We understood their desperation and what they believed was the impossibility of motherhood. But, unprepared for the emotional aftermath, we felt duped by promotions that made it all seem too simple.
How is it, then, that today, condoning death to children able to survive birth is a positive? Does availability and the disappearance of shame make it humane? If women weep for decades over early abortions, what must they feel when ending the lives of babies who cry, suck, feel pain, and could bring joy to other adults?
A healthy majority of Americans object to second and third trimester abortions. Yet later terminations occur routinely while U.S. birth rates decline. Inducing labor for a non-living fetus should not be conflated with removing a preterm baby who can survive assisted or unassisted outside the womb.
License to take away a child's opportunity for life and ignoring the consequences are society's steps along the road C.S. Lewis described as the safest one to Hell: "... the gradual one—the gentle slope, soft underfoot, without sudden turnings, without milestones, without signposts...." They are anything but socially or morally progressive.