The Pain Capable Abortion Bill: We Should Save Whom We Can

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The “Pain Capable” bill is brilliant because it taps into our compassion for helpless creatures, even non-humans. If pro-aborts can’t accept that unborn babies are human, will they at least admit they are mammals? If so, then they deserve the same protections as cattle, pigs, and shelter pets…  No that’s not enough, but we’re not finished.

By John Zmirak, a Senior Editor of The Stream, Oct. 5, 2017

John ZmirakThe House has passed a brilliant bill that would protect unborn children from elective abortion after 20 weeks, the threshold at which they can likely feel pain. We should be grateful. We should also be thankful to have a president who has promised to sign such a law. We almost had Hillary Clinton, who threw off the moderate mask she wore in Arkansas, and supports abortion on demand for sex selection at taxpayer expense right up to the moment of birth. That is how fanatical the Democratic party has become on this issue.

Yes, we’re worried (and slightly depressed that we must even worry) that a Republican-controlled Senate might not pass such a timid advance in civil rights for unborn babies. But we can now put to rest the myth of the pro-life Democrat. On abortion, the party is comprised of bitter ideologues, impervious to reason.

Should We Slum with China and North Korea?

That much becomes clear with their closed-ranks opposition to the latest bill. It seeks to remove the U.S from a tiny club of pariah nations like China and North Korea that still kill unborn children once they’re this close to birth. It tries to apply to unborn human children at least the same humane treatment we seek in the slaughter of cattle: minimizing pain, as much as possible. (When doctors perform operations on unborn babies at 20 weeks, they use anesthetic. Why would that be?)

But pro-choicers have doubled and tripled down on the outrageous position that an unborn child’s location inside his mother gives her the same rights over him that a slave owner had over his chattel. More rights than we give cattle ranchers over their cattle. The absolute right to kill without compunction, without concern for pain.

Like most pro-lifers, I’m frustrated at the salami-slice strategy.

I’m glad that at last the pro-abortion lobby has dropped its mid-90s pretense of seeking to make abortion “safe, legal, and rare.” Now the slogan you see is “Abortion on demand without apology.” Well, that draws the lines starkly, doesn’t it? It’s a hideous position, but it has the merit of candor, as when white racists drop the American flag and instead wave Nazi ones.

Life By a Thousand Cuts

So our opponents adopt such an absolute position. Fine. Are we wrong to respond by pushing such half-measures as this one? Like most pro-lifers, I’m frustrated at the salami-slice strategy we have had to adopt, since Roe v. Wade falsified the Constitution on this issue. Waiting periods. Parental consent. Banning just one type of procedure (partial-birth abortion) while leaving others untouched. By mincing around with such flimsy protections for unborn children, don’t we undermine our case? If we really believe that abortion is outright murder, why don’t we act like it?

I’ve already explained here why we don’t act unilaterally and violently. It would start a civil war. We don’t come close to meeting the criteria for just war in this case, so we’d be in the wrong. No matter how just our cause.

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But why don’t we then put all our energy into passing a Constitutional amendment? That seems to be the only direct path to protecting unborn children. However, by our founders’ design, passing such measures is almost impossibly hard. More basic, though, is the question of fairness. When the left wants to change the U.S. Constitution, they’ve stopped wasting time on democratic measures, like the Equal Rights Amendment. Instead, they just pack the courts, and turn the Supreme Court into a permanent, sitting constitutional convention.

Go for the Gut

Instead of whining about the bad civics, it’s time we faced the facts. That’s how our country runs now. So we’ll play by those rules, and play hardball. The Republicans were wise to abolish the judicial filibuster for that very reason. If the left continues to get more recklessly ideological and even anti-American, we might have to wipe out the legislative filibuster too. Such quaint Senate customs emerged in an era when we shared basic norms of decency across the aisle. That’s not true anymore. Having a filibuster in the U.S. Senate now is a bit like giving North Korea or Iran veto power on the U.N. Security Council.

But there’s a deeper reason why the incremental approach works. People mostly don’t operate on cool, demonstrative logic. It’s the power of rhetoric to stir up our emotions that makes the world go round. No reason to complain about that. It’s always been true. I defy you to find a complete syllogism on Jesus’ lips in the Gospels. Nor did George Washington stand up at Valley Forge and produce a proof.

Bravo, Pro-Life Strategists

The legal and political strategists of the pro-life movement who came up with the “Pain-Capable” bill deserve our thanks. When the abortion debate began in the late 1960s, people saw it in clouded terms. They imagined that “clumps of cells” imperiled the hopes and dreams of fresh-faced, hopeful young women. They weighed the abstract rights of those little cell-clumps against the happiness of their sisters and daughters. No surprise that babies lost that battle.

Pro-lifers like Dr. Bernard Nathanson worked hard to reveal the humanity of unborn children. His films The Silent Scream and The Eclipse of Reason used the latest technology to pierce the veil of ignorance. To show the beating heart and teeming brain of unborn babies at the moment of their destruction. Now 3D ultrasounds do even more. Indeed, if we used the criterion we do for unplugging terminal patients — brain activity — most abortions would already be illegal. In fact, “brain life” might be the next goalpost we’d be smart to aim for.

The “Pain Capable” bill is brilliant because it taps into our compassion for helpless creatures, even non-humans. If pro-aborts can’t accept that unborn babies are human, will they at least admit they are mammals? If so, then they deserve the same protections as cattle, pigs, and shelter pets.

No that’s not enough, but we’re not finished.

We will go on rebuilding the natural, healthy empathy that born people should have with preborn people, in case after case after case. As we saw in the LGBT movement, the left wins by nudging the public up to the brinks of slippery slopes, then giving the gentlest shove. Two can play that game.


John Zmirak is a Senior Editor of The Stream, and author of the new Politically Incorrect Guide to Catholicism. He received his B.A. from Yale University in 1986, then his M.F.A. in screenwriting and fiction and his Ph.D. in English in 1996 from Louisiana State University. His focus was the English Renaissance, and the novels of Walker Percy. He taught composition at LSU and screenwriting at Tulane University, and has written screenplays for and with director Ronald Maxwell (Gods & Generals and Gettysburg). He was elected alternate delegate to the 1996 Republican Convention, representing Pat Buchanan.

He has been Press Secretary to pro-life Louisiana Governor Mike Foster, and a reporter and editor at Success magazine and Investor’s Business Daily, among other publications. His essays, poems, and other works have appeared in First Things, The Weekly Standard, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, USA Today, FrontPage Magazine, The American Conservative, The South Carolina Review, Modern Age, The Intercollegiate Review, Commonweal, and The National Catholic Register, among other venues. He has contributed to American Conservatism: An Encyclopedia and The Encyclopedia of Catholic Social Thought. From 2000-2004 he served as Senior Editor of Faith & Family magazine and a reporter at The National Catholic Register. During 2012 he was editor of Crisis.

He is author, co-author, or editor of eleven books, including Wilhelm Ropke: Swiss Localist, Global Economist, The Grand Inquisitor (graphic novel) and The Race to Save Our Century. He was editor of the Intercollegiate Studies Institute’s guide to higher education, Choosing the Right College and, for ten years, and is also editor of Disorientation: How to Go to College Without Losing Your Mind.