Fetal pain bills: Should we “save the one”?


Where the fight is, and where it should be.


UPDATE: The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act has passed the U.S. House, 228-196.

Much debate has recently centered on H.R. 1797, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. And sadly, much of this debate has been among pro-life groups.

Originally, this bill was written to ban abortions after the baby reached 20 weeks’ gestational age. (This is 22 weeks into a pregnancy, using the popular LMP method of timing a pregnancy.) There was an exception to the ban when the life of the mother was endangered. However, in the last few days, the bill was amended to add in an additional exception for rape and incest.

Several issues arise with this turn of events, and pro-lifers would do well to analyze the truly appropriate response. I have personally worked with genuine pro-lifers who support incremental legislation, like H.R. 1797, and I have worked with equally genuine pro-lifers who support only legislation without exceptions. Our movement gains absolutely nothing by name-calling, turning on each other, and condemning fellow pro-lifers. Even when we disagree on strategy, we ought to respect each other, as we are all fighting to save lives in the best way we know how.

Should we have a discussion on the best strategy? Absolutely. Should we push each other to do our best, to do what’s right in this battle? Yes. Should we explain why we believe that our strategy is most likely to succeed and try to convince others to jump on board? Sure. But all too often, I believe we pro-lifers waste time arguing within our own ranks, pushing our own ideas as the only correct standard, and, in the end, talking more than we are acting.

You disagree with other pro-lifers’ strategy? Fine. But don’t just stand there and talk about it. Go get busy implementing your own strategy, and don’t attack them for implementing theirs.

The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act – and other fetal pain bills – raises several specific issues we ought to consider.

1) Can we support this legislation even though it fails to protect unborn children prior to 20 weeks?

In 2008, I was the spokesperson for the Colorado Personhood Amendment. I wholeheartedly believe that every baby – at every age – is worthy of equal protection. I fought for the youngest babies’ protection for years, as many pro-lifers have done, and I would support a bill to protect unborn children from fertilization in a heartbeat.

fetus babyHowever, so far, personhood amendments have not become law in any state. They are making great progress, and I am thrilled to see them advance. This is one important strategy in our movement.

Yet, we cannot forget that there are also other important strategies. Naturally, we cannot all work on every single strategy out there, but I believe that by advancing multiple strategies at once, we will change the laws and the culture. Fetal pain bills, especially in light of the recent Gosnell trial, do strike a chord in the heart of the American people.

We are a compassionate nation, and in many nations across the globe, we work to end suffering. Certainly, we ought to end suffering here at home as well. Fetal pain bills provide an excellent opportunity to educate Americans on the barbaric procedures used in abortion and the great pain suffered by unborn children. Few Americans understand the actual realities of abortion, and fetal pain bills like H.R. 1797 provide a perfect opportunity to reveal some of the horrific realities.

While fetal pain bills are far from the perfect solution to our nation’s abortion problem, they can save thousands of lives (H.R. 1797 could save around 16,000-18,000), help to humanize the unborn child, and provide a realistic view of the horrors of abortion to the American public. These bills are one way to change our culture and reach hearts for life – all while legally saving thousands of lives in the process.

2) What about “saving the one”? Can we support legislation with a rape and incest exception?

Within the pro-life movement, there are excellent discussions going on about how best to save all unborn children from the destruction of abortion. Many pro-life experts stand up strongly for the lives of babies conceived in rape and incest. These babies are their focal point, and these pro-lifers do an excellent job convincing people that an innocent child should never be executed for the crimes of her father. Abortion does not erase rape, and it sets in motion a whole host of additional problems for women.

20-weeks-human-fetusThe rallying cry to save the babies conceived in rape and incest is “save the one!” (Approximately 1 in 100 abortions is performed because of rape or incest.) Each of these precious children does indeed deserve to live; all of them must be saved.

Yet the question arises – how should pro-lifers respond when a bill is presented that does not “save the one”? Should we proclaim, “Kill the bill!” and wait until another year, when legislation that also saves these babies is presented? Or should we save the 99 babies whom we can save and press on afterwards to save the one left behind?

While I believe that it is noble – and right – to fight to save one single life, I also cannot help but mourn when pro-lifers reject saving the 99 only because they cannot save all 100. Are we really thinking this through? If a house were on fire with 100 little girls inside, would we really argue that, unless we can save all 100 of them, we should leave all 100 to burn – even when we have an option of saving 99? Is that not a difficult thing to leave on our consciences?

Save the one, but if you can’t, kill the 99 you could have saved? I know that’s not the language being used, but in effect, that’s exactly what some pro-lifers are advocating for.

3) How can we view this battle going forward?

Here are a few steps of action I would propose:

  • Strive to get the best possible language in pro-life bills, when possible. The best language would eliminate rape and incest exceptions as well as broad exceptions for “health” (which includes emotional, financial, and psychological “health”) and exceptions for fetal abnormalities. It would protect babies at fertilization, the moment of their existence, and beyond. Consider, though, if it is better to save the babies we can save instead of only and always insisting on “no-compromise” bills.
  • If a bill is presented with exceptions, despite our efforts, realize how many babies it will save instead of focusing solely on how many it will not save. Consider if it is really worth it to let thousands of babies continue to die simply because we cannot save all of them. Look to the example of William Wilberforce. How many whom we could have saved will die in the time it takes us to pass our perfect legislation?
  • human-fetusIf a bill with exceptions is passed, realize that this is not the end! Continue fighting to “save the one.” Urge politicians to support legislation that removes the exceptions; go back and save these babies! Just because we support saving 99 never means we forget about the one we left behind. The fight is not over when a bill is passed. The bill may improve the situation, but we should not give up until the situation is fixed.
  • Use every opportunity to educate the American public on the horrors of abortion and the preciousness of every single human life. Learn and broadcast accurate scientific facts. Hone your philosophical arguments. Use any pro-life bill as a chance to talk about the cruelty of abortion and the value of human life – not as a chance to debate and argue with other pro-lifers.

In the end, let’s save as many lives as we can in this moment we have been given. Then, let’s go out and create more moments to save more babies until they are all saved.

Editor’s Note: This article is the opinion of the author, not the official position of Live Action on H.R. 1797.

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