C.S. Lewis was only partly right when he wrote: The greatest evil … is conceived and ordered (moved, seconded, carried and minuted) in clean, carpeted, warmed and well-lighted offices, by quiet men with white collars and cut fingernails and smooth-shaven cheeks who do not need to raise their voice.
Lewis, perhaps, couldn’t have envisioned the day when a law allowing abortion up to the moment of birth would receive a standing ovation, as occurred last month with New York’s passage of the absurdly named Reproductive Health Act.
Upon signing the bill, which also permits some health care professionals who are not doctors to perform the abortions, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo ordered that One World Trade Center be illuminated in pink, hijacking the color associated with saving breast-cancer victims — and the birth of a baby girl.
What a weird, wicked world we live in.
Recently in Virginia, Del. Kathy Tran testified on behalf of a bill that would have simplified the process for having a late-term abortion. Currently, Virginia law requires three doctors’ approval for such a procedure. The bill, which was subsequently tabled, would’ve required only one’s. This was hardly the stuff of “infanticide,” a word that began tumbling from the lips of certain critics, but Gov. Ralph Northam wasn’t helpful. Two days before his yearbook scandal broke, he talked during a radio interview about making distressed newborns “comfortable” while the family decides whether to resuscitate.
Just maybe we’re not very good at talking about the unspeakable.
Meanwhile, lawmakers in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Vermont and other blue states are busy hammering out their own legal concoctions, likely concerned that Roe v. Wade will be overturned by the now-predominantly conservative Supreme Court. I leave others to argue the validity of those concerns, but my sources in the pro-life movement, including several legal scholars, think upending the decision is unlikely given that, in 1992, the court not only reinforced Roe but actually made the ruling stronger.
Regardless, the pro-choice movement has been preparing for such a frontal assault on the few abortion restrictions left to states. In 1973, when Roe was issued, a baby’s viability was set at 24-28 weeks. Today, thanks to technology and our finer understanding of human development, viability occurs around 22 weeks.
In New York City, where about two in five pregnancies are terminated, there will no longer be any presumption of humanity for the baby at any stage of pregnancy, which goes far beyond abortion jurisprudence. Most Americans are fully against such extreme approaches to abortion. One survey puts the share who support abortion during the third trimester at just 13 percent.
Like many if not most Americans, I have been reasonably at ease with President Bill Clinton’s 1996 call for making abortion “safe, legal and rare,” but had hoped we’d seriously pursue that goal through better information and limit abortion to the first trimester. But the pro-choice side has resisted many attempts to educate. Activists have opposed laws requiring that pregnant women have the option of viewing a sonogram before their abortion. They’ve also thwarted attempts to make adoption resources available at abortion clinics.
What are they afraid of? That someone may change her mind?
My own thinking about abortion was partly formed by having almost witnessed a “back-alley abortion” when a college friend sought an abortion in 1970 in Spain. We walked into a room with a white linoleum table over which, not kidding, a single lightbulb hung. We bolted, called home for money, and put her on a plane to London for a legal abortion.
No one wants women to be subjected to such last resorts. But nor should we be celebrating laws that ignore the humanity of an unborn child. While there are only four doctors in the U.S. that perform third-trimester abortions and, obviously, “no one gets an abortion on the delivery table,” as New York Times columnist Michelle Goldberg put it, the codification of late-term abortion should be discomfiting.
It is obvious, meanwhile, that these pro-abortion legislators’ new efforts are aimed at undoing, one by one, the state-level “victories” of their pro-life counterparts — even, apparently, if it means putting women’s lives at greater risk by allowing non-doctors to perform abortions.
But more concerning than a possible increase in late-term abortions (now at fewer than 2 percent of all pregnancy terminations) is the clinical way we’ve come to view and discuss human life. When we use language to disguise reality — whether the developing human baby is a “clump of cells,” a “fetus,” or, even, a “product of termination” — we move ever-closer to the dehumanization of us all.
Kathleen Parker is a columnist for The Washington Post. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.