Politicians Playing Doctor: There’s a difference between pro-life and pro-birth

Pro Life

Indeed, we do need a broader, deeper, national conversation about what being ‘pro-life” actually means.  Unfortunately, in the constricted world of some activists, the term is simply a political buzz word for “anti-abortion.”

The buzz words are back as some Republican candidates woo their evangelical base with “pro-life” legislative proposals, such as Senator Lindsay Graham’s reintroduction of his “20 week abortion” ban bill in the U.S. Senate. [HuffPo]

“The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, which the House passed earlier this year, bans abortions after 20 weeks unless the woman’s life is in danger or she is a victim of rape or incest. The bill is based on the disputed theory that fetuses can feel pain at 20 weeks.  Abortions after 20 weeks are very rare and women often make the decision to end a pregnancy at that point after discovering a severe fetal anomaly that could not be detected earlier. Graham’s bill has no exception for those situations.” [HuffPo]

The first problem with Senator Graham’s proposal is that it really doesn’t address the issue of abortion directly – 98.5% of abortions occur before the 20 weeks expire. Further, Senator Graham’s proposal would prevent the termination of a pregnancy in cases where the mother’s life is in danger, or in instances of incest and rape.  For all practical purposes, Senator Graham’s bill doesn’t outlaw abortions, it merely makes them more inconvenient – and a challenge to his proposed law (if enacted) would allow for a possible reversal of Roe v. Wade.  Which, we’d might expect is what the Pro-Birth advocates want in the first place.  If we were truly Pro-Child we’d take some other elements into consideration.

Medical Issues

If we are going to extend the moral argument, as Sister Joan Chittester suggests, then we do need to take those “severe fetal anomalies” under advisement.   How do we address a potential “life” for a fetus which is developing without kidneys, without a bladder, and with no prospect for lung development? [HuffPo]  The condition is known as Potter’s Syndrome, “There has not yet been a BRA baby (no kidneys, no ureters and which also has pulmonary hypoplasia) that has been reported to survive more than a few days past birth.” [PS.org]  Bless them, there are geneticists and other researchers working to pinpoint the causes and perhaps find ways to discover how to eventually eliminate this condition, but for now parents are faced with the possibility of carrying to term a fetus which will survive only a few days. Where’s the reduction of pain in that?

Potter’s Syndrome, and some other fetal anomalies may only be discovered after the 20 week “ban” because “the ideal time to perform the second trimester ultrasound is between 20-22 weeks. While ultrasounds administered prior to 20 weeks are generally adequate to assess major organ systems, they fail to detect major cardiac, skeletal, and craniofacial anomalies, particularly those that are lethal to the fetus.” [SciPro] (emphasis added)

“Of particular concern are two classes of fetal anomalies that cannot be detected early in a pregnancy. First are the variable-onset fetal anomalies. These anomalies begin at variable gestational ages but are often detected beyond 20 weeks. Second are the late-onset anomalies that develop late in the gestational age of the fetus, typically in the second or third trimester, or are undetectable until the abnormality is at the end-point of a pregnancy. Importantly, the 20-week bans passing across the states generally do not include exceptions for lethal fetal anomalies, meaning women are forced to carry fetuses with anomalies to term, regardless of viability.”  [SciPro]

The only thing that may occur for certain if 20 week bans are enacted is that more families will have to endure the tragedies of anencephaly (absence of the brain above the base of the skull); renal agenesis (kidneys fail to develop); limb-body wall complex (organs develop outside the body); neural tube defects (protrusion of brain tissue through the skull or severe hydrocephaly); meningomyelocele  (openings in the vertebrae); caudal regression syndrome; lethal skeletal dysplasias (leading to respiratory failure).   These aren’t the kind of birth defects which lead to disabilities, in their severe forms they are simply and horribly lethal.

Where in Senator Graham’s bill are the funds to assist families who have to face the bills for a complicated and often tragic birth?  Where in the Senator’s bill are the funds for further research on fatal fetal anomalies and their possible causation?   If the bill is truly “pro-life” then where are the suggested appropriations for medical research?  Why hasn’t the House of Representatives, the body in which appropriations must be introduced, addressed research needs for those studying fetal anomalies?

Social Issues

If the issues aren’t medical they’re social, and we know what those are.

“Most women seeking later abortion fit at least one of five profiles: They were raising children alone, were depressed or using illicit substances, were in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence, had trouble deciding and then had access problems, or were young and nulliparous.” [Guttmacher]

Raising children alone.”  And, how are we going to assist women who are single parents?  By cutting the funding for SNAP benefits? (food stamps) By turning the SNAP program into a block grant unit which can be further reduced at the whim of a stingy Congress?  By a Congress much more willing to subsidize the oil and gas giants, or the military manufacturers, than to offer help to a struggling mother.  By telling a single mother to “get her life together and find a husband?” [Bush 1994]  If we truly want to have fewer abortions, then the obvious thing to do is to remove the barriers to having children – including the economic ones.  Would it help the single mother if we decided that women should have equal pay if they are doing the same job as a man?

Depressed or using illicit substances.”  Again, if we want to reduce the number of abortions, how about increasing the access to mental health programs and treatment?   Where’s the funding for mental health clinics, for out-patient services, for in-patient services? For any mental health services?

We know that by 2012 state mental health services budgets had been pared to the bone.  [TP]  By 2011, the Kaiser Foundation was reporting that 60% of adults and 70% of children with diagnosable mental health issues were not receiving the treatment they needed.  Again, it’s one thing to vigorously announce one’s pro-life stance, and another to advocate for additional funds to support the mental health services which might make all the difference in the world to a woman who might otherwise seek an abortion.

Using illicit substances? Once more: Where is the advocacy for more drug treatment programs?  Where is the advocacy for making drug treatment programs more readily available to lower income women whose addictions endanger their pregnancies?   Do I hear crickets?

“…in conflict with a male partner or experiencing domestic violence.”  Have a look at the map, did your representative in Congress vote against the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act?  Of the 160 Republican members of Congress who voted against the re-authorization of the law, we find the names of some who were also sponsors of Graham’s original S. 1670 abortion ban bill.  Who sponsored Graham’s  bill but voted against reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act?   Answer: Senators Mitch McConnell, John Cornyn, John Thune, John Barrasso, Roy Blunt, Tim Scott, Orrin Hatch, Charles Grassley, Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, Pat Roberts,  James Inhofe, Mike Johanns, John Boozman, James Risch, Tom Coburn, Ron Johnson, Jeff Sessions, Mike Lee, and Rand Paul.  (Presidential candidates underlined)

How, exactly, does it make any sense at all to sponsor legislation to outlaw later term abortions while voting against a bill which sought to alleviate one of the five primary reasons women were seeking an abortion in the first place?

“…had trouble deciding and then had access problems.”   This seems to be the point of the anti-abortionists.  Legislate bans on later term abortions while enacting state laws closing down medical facilities which provide abortion services.  Perhaps it has not occurred to the Senators that lower income women may have trouble gathering the financial resources to get an abortion, and by the time they do – the clock’s run out on them. If simply “attending” to the possible pain of fetus (and that’s certainly debatable) is the reason for the bill – then the obvious way to solve the problem is to make it easier for a woman who wants to terminate a pregnancy earlier.  Obviously, that’s not the point.   The idea is to prevent the abortion – so, now we ought to address Sister Joan’s contentions – Where’s the funding for the nutrition, for the education, for the housing, for the day care, for the CHILD?

“…were young and nulliparous”  Nulliparous, fellows, is the term for a woman who has never before borne a child.   Morning sickness isn’t the only early signal – there’s shortness of breath, sore breasts, a need for a nap, shifts in the sense of smell, mood swings, and hunger.  How many young women who’ve never been pregnant before can put all the signals together? And, how many don’t have the necessary information from parents or from sex education or health classes to put the signals into a coherent pattern?  It’s entirely possible that a pregnant teen would miss the signals until “it’s too late.” Please spare me the sermonizing; abstinence only classes aren’t going to help the kids figure out what’s going on.  If a person wants to be pro-life, then it would behoove the individual to advocate for health education which addresses just when “life” is about to sprout.

Pro-Life Pro-Birth

Those who wave their Pro-Life signs won’t convince me the signs mean anything more than a call for politicians to enact anti-abortion bills unless, and until, those signs are accompanied by an equal effort to insure that every child is adequately fed, securely housed, cared for while parents work, attending a quality pre-school program, attending a well resourced school, clothed appropriately for the season, receiving needed medical, dental, hearing, and vision services.   That’s Pro-Life; the ideological and judgmental anti-abortion crowd is merely Pro-Birth. Please adjust your signage accordingly.

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