Is Denial a Good Basis for Abortion Policy?

17 Weeks

Once again, a political sideshow is likely to be the sole outcome from the revelations in the recent Planned Parenthood videos, drowning out what could have been an important conversation around another perennially politicized issue.

As could have been a good starting point, the videos show definitely that abortion involves far more than the suctioning of a formless glob of cells. The procedure discussed in detail throughout the videos is the forceable, fatal extraction of human bodies from their protective environment.

Bodies with lungs, livers, hearts, heads, and “lower extremities”—all clearly identifiable, differentiable—with abortions performed systematically to avoid crushing the body parts to be “supplied.”

The “17 weeker” whose body parts are at the center of part of the conversation is a baby who “can move her joints, and her sweat glands are starting to develop.” At 18 weeks, a girl’s uterus and fallopian tubes are formed and in place, and boys’ genitals have been formed, “but he may hide them from you during an ultrasound.”

At 24 weeks—the upper limit at which the doctor in the video performs abortions—the baby is fully formed: “his brain is also growing quickly now, and his taste buds are continuing to develop.”

This of course is simply the latest “in our face” evidence of what abortion actually entails. A similar sound and fury followed the revelation of Gosnell’s grisly late-term abortion clinics, at which the active killing of aborted babies was standard operating procedure—quickly swept under the rug as “exceptional.”

With today’s technologies—ultrasounds that clearly show the humanness of babies in the womb at very early stages; advances in medical care providing high survival rates to “preemies” born at the same age that unwanted babies are being aborted—and with now decades of evidence that universal access to birth control and sex education has failed to produce any reduction in the number of abortions being performed, it is surely time to revisit this issue that Roe v. Wade did nothing to resolve.

Yes, such a conversation will surely be “complicated.” But let’s not follow Gov’s advice that “when things get that complicated, it’s probably best to just let other people worry about it.”

This is clearly not a conversation we can leave to politicians. Asked about the ethics of late-term abortion in light of Gosnell, Nancy Pelosi responded with typical hyperbole: abortion is “sacred ground,” with any question on late-term abortion being the equivalent of declaring “there’s no abortion, it would make it a federal law that there would be no abortion in America.”

So can we who claim to uphold the principles of rights, liberty, and responsibility establish a starting point for agreement?

Is the decision over life or death any woman’s, under any circumstance?

In ancient Rome, a husband could order his wife to have an abortion—almost certainly a death sentence for her as well. Selective and forced abortions are accepted public policy in India and China. Are we more enlightened in supporting domestic abortion rates running above a million annually, but “chosen” by a woman by a procedure that (usually) doesn’t kill her?

Do we care how a cavalier attitude towards women and children may undermine our foundational principles of rights to life and liberty?

Are we concerned with what trading in body parts—from bodies that have no say in the matter—may portend for ownership of our own bodies?

The majority of women cite not being able to afford a baby as being the driver of her decision to abort. Can not we—the richest and most generous people in history, the beneficiaries of a tradition, practice, and canon in voluntary society—produce a rich array of alternative choices better serving our sisters and their babies in need?

A starting point could be supporting counseling centers that help women facing an unintended pregnancy chart a plan that allows her to carry to term; supporting voluntary organizations that help women find employment, housing, job and life skills.

And step up the assault against barriers to educational and economic opportunities: further alternatives to the failed government school system, end licensing, zoning, minimum wage, and other regulations that protect established interests against new entrants.

None of us has to act—but let’s at least stop denying what abortion really looks like.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Senior Vice President of the Independent Institute. Having received her A.B. in economics from Stanford University, she is Managing Director of Lightning Ventures, L.P., a San Francisco Bay Area investment firm, former Chairman of the Board of Advisors for the Salvation Army of both San Francisco and Alameda County, and Vice President of the C.S. Lewis Society of California.
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