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The Problem with Exceptions
Sarah St. Onge | 03 June 2019
John Rogers,[i] Ralph Northam,[ii] Kathy Tran.[iii] These names have become infamous due to their recent, scandalous comments about abortion.
While pro-life groups and individuals are characterizing their words as being focused on abortion in general, the reality is Northam and Tran were pointedly referencing third-trimester abortion when a serious birth defect has been discovered. Robert’s abortion comments weren’t as specific in terms of gestation, and were focused on both the poor and the disabled, but his contempt for “retarded and half-deformed” babies was particularly disgusting.
It’s these types of bias I’ll be referencing throughout the remainder of this article.
As a long-time pro-life advocate specializing in exceptional cases, I don’t find the comments surprising, and I don’t understand why pro-lifers are so shocked these legislators feel comfortable sharing such extreme views.
The shift to open support for late-term abortion isn’t sudden, it’s been happening for years now. The primary marketing for passing abortion on demand legislation has evolved from assertions that abortion should remain safe, legal, and rare, into unscrupulous and continual shouting about children suffering through pregnancies after a sexual assault and women delivering half-dead babies. Vague exceptions to laws are presented by pro-choicers primarily as aids for the woman facing exceptionally desperate circumstances; to rid herself of a baby who would cause her irreparable harm: the baby conceived during an act of rape or who has been diagnosed with a serious birth defect. We see op-eds[iv] written by parents who’ve terminated pregnancies in these dire situations — narratives written in first person so readers are able to immerse themselves in an experience they’ll most likely never have. Pro-abortion advocacy groups focus their attention on “exceptional” cases because they understand elective abortion is not popular among the majority of Americans, even those who consider themselves pro-choice.
This reality, in conjunction with pro-life legislators’ propensity to pass anti-abortion legislation with exceptions has created a troubling dynamic. Many Pro-Life advocates have been sounding alarms regarding the inconsistency of laws being passed because “a law which doesn’t protect everyone protects no one.” I’ve written about how personhood[v] is the only answer to this mess….. and we’ve all focused on how laws with exceptions cause anti-life attitudes to fester and give those lukewarm legislators the votes of their pro-life constituents.
Now we’re in a place where pro-choice legislators feel it’s acceptable to openly speak about ending the lives of potentially viable, full-term children; a place where babies with disabilities can be spoken of so callously.
We attempt to lay the blame on the heartlessness of the pro-abortion crowd, but the truth is this is our fault. We’ve continued to press for laws which contain exemptions for the most vulnerable babies out of a misguided sense of expediency, in essence telling our opponents that we don’t really mean it when we say all of the unborn have intrinsic value. We ourselves have clearly stated some babies are more equal than others, implying there’s a hierarchy to murderous intent- we ourselves have made the idea of killing disabled children acceptable. Our pro-life leaders[vi] explain the logic behind the exceptions claiming legislative necessity without contemplating the long-term damage that’s been done. It’s been over forty years… maybe if we’d initially presented exception-free legislation from the start, we would have strong pro-life legislators instead of closeted pro-choice legislators using the pro-life vote to bolster their status.
Unfortunately, the exceptions tree is now in full bloom, and its fruit isn’t just evident on the pro-choice side. The pro-life side is also beginning to have trouble viewing babies afflicted with birth defects as people:
On May 14th, Alabama passed what has been touted as an “exception-less” anti-abortion law.[vii]
Except it isn’t an exception-less law: the Alabama bill contains exceptions which may make it difficult to enforce. My primary concern is the exception for babies with serious birth defects, and one particular section 3 (3): Lethal Anomaly- a condition from which a child would die after birth or shortly thereafter or be stillborn.
Speaking to any parent who’s faced pressure to terminate a pregnancy after receiving a poor prenatal diagnosis, especially when the baby is afflicted with a genetic disorder such as trisomy 13 or 18, you’ll learn medical professionals often characterize these disorders as lethal when many children survive[viii] with medical treatment. The law doesn’t even specify what “after birth” means —after all, everyone dies after birth. The language is vague enough it could potentially be used to allow abortion for any serious (but potentially survivable) birth defect.
How can we feign disgust at the comments of pro-abortion legislators when we add the same provisions into supposedly “exception-less” laws? How can we expect to protect our most vulnerable when our own laws don’t recognize them as fully human? When our own pro-life leaders describe legislation which would allow these children to be killed, as exception-less?
We must start by acknowledging where we went wrong. The second we concede there are acceptable reasons to end the life of an unborn child (such as one conceived in rape or who has been diagnosed with a fetal anomaly), we open the door to any excuse for abortion. Even now we’ve given pro-abortionists a tangible goal to work for and within those parameters they’ve turned pregnancy itself into an assault: each fetus “raping” his/her mother by continuing to thrive within her womb. Again, by moving the focus away from the humanity of all preborn persons we’ve cast aside the foundation of the pro-life movement. We’ve declared all humans are not intrinsically valuable… which means no human is intrinsically valuable.
We must focus on learning more about principled incrementalism, incrementalism, and immediatism, and how they each relate to arguments about ending abortion. The organization I work with, Save the 1, believes principled incrementalism is the best option for both saving all babies and assuring legislation is unassailable in the future, while also changing the culture to ensure lives are saved not solely due to legislation but also due to an alteration in the hearts and minds of the people. While both other options may seem attractive to some, we fear they may ultimately cause more harm than good. Our goal is a complete and permanent end to abortion in the US.
We must engage with our family, friends, and neighbors when it comes to conversations about life issues no matter how difficult it may seem. In NY, where I live, we recently passed the disgraceful Reproductive Health Act, yet I know very few people of voting age who support this extreme measure. Unfortunately, abortion was rarely mentioned in our election literature. The average person was voting with other issues in mind. If more pro-lifers had warned those around them about the potential danger approaching we may have continued blocking this bill from passage.
We also need to address the growing danger of the “Seamless Garment” outlook seeping into the anti-abortion movement. If we continue to view abortion as equally evil to every other problem of humanity, we dilute the message. Abortion is outside the scope of any other moral issue. With the exception of the death penalty (which is an entirely different discussion, and for which some can make a pro-life argument), there is no other legislative action for which the specific purpose is to end the life of an intrinsically valuable human being.
Planned Parenthood and its cohorts have become comfortable with openly advocating for abortion at all stages of pregnancy, and it’s opened peoples’ eyes to the reality of exactly what they mean when they say, “Reproductive Rights.” We’re seeing the domino affect of opposition in terms of heartbeat bills being passed, almost daily, in Middle America. We are in the midst of an awakening, but we need to assure that legislation being passed protects all children, otherwise not only do we leave a window open for abortion proponents to wedge open, in an effort to fulfill their promise of abortion on demand, no questions asked, but we risk the innumerable deaths of children who would otherwise survive with proper medical treatment.
The right to life isn’t just a right of the wanted, healthy, and productive. Life is the right of every human being, no exceptions and no compromise.
[i] Ertelt, S. (2019, May 12) Democrat Defends Aborting “Retarded” Babies, Retrieved from https://www.lifenews.com/2019/05/02/democrat-legislator-defends-aborting-retarded-babies-some-kids-are-unwanted-you-kill-them-now-or-kill-them-later/
[ii] Ktbbam600 (2019, Jan. 31) VA Gov Ralph Northam Discusses Third Trimester Abortion Bill, Retrieved from https://youtu.be/Vx5QKTY-3MY
[iii] LifesiteNews (2019, Jan 30) VA Democrat Defends Bill Allowing Abortion As Woman Is Giving Birth, Retrieved from https://youtu.be/t0kC1B__CJ4
[iv] Carson, K (2019, Feb. 19) I Had A Later Abortion Because I Couldn’t Give My Baby Girl Both Life And Peace, Retrieved from https://www.usatoday.com/story/opinion/voices/2019/02/19/late-term-abortion-donald-trump-ben-sasse-state-union-column/2881880002/
[v] St. Onge, S. (2019, Jan. 29) How Overturning Roe Could Expand Abortion Inside The United States, Retrieved from https://thefederalist.com/2019/01/29/overturning-roe-expand-abortion-inside-united-states/
[vi] Pavone, F, FR (2019, May 30) The President, the Unborn, and Exceptions
[vii] Alabama House Bill (HB314), 2019 Regular Session, (AL 2019)
[viii] Katherine E. Nelson, MD1,2,3; Laura C. Rosella, PhD4,5; Sanjay Mahant, MD2,3,6; et al Survival and Surgical Interventions for Children With Trisomy 13 and 18 JAMA. 2016;316(4):420-428. doi:10.1001/jama.2016.9819
Sarah St. Onge, is a Christian wife, mother, and pro-life advocate. She writes about abortion, child-loss, grief, and issues pertaining to continuing a pregnancy after a lethal anomaly has been diagnosed, at www.shebringsjoy.com. You can find her on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter — where she’s frequently engaged in a passionate defense of exceptional children.