The June 18 vote in the House of Representatives on the “Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act” was telling—and what it told us about abortion absolutism was highly disturbing. The 228-196 vote was almost completely along party lines: If there are “Democrats for Life,” they are a species nearly as endangered as the unborn themselves. Indeed, almost simultaneously with the Washington vote, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo threatened electoral revenge on the “Independent Democratic Conference,” a gang of four sharing power with Republicans in the State Senate, which had indicated disinterest in bringing Cuomo’s attempt to codify the most radical interpretation of Roe to the Senate floor for a vote. Within hours of the House vote, the White House threatened to veto the HR 1797, while the President’s political action committee, “Organizing for Action” (OFA), cranked out an e-mail urging recipients to “stand up” for “women’s health.”
The only thing that seemed to be missing was the usual Obama dichotomy between “science” (i.e., his opinions) and the dark side, dominated by those who would, for example, displace “science” from “its rightful place” by opposing experimentation on the unborn. Perhaps a shard of intellectual humility about the scientific fact that life begins at conception would have deterred them, I thought, from invoking that tired canard.
Well, overnight I was proved wrong. On June 20, OFA operative Jon Carson dispatched his own email to warn that “yesterday’s debate . . . showed us that we’re up against some elected officials that lack a foundational understanding of science. One congresswoman . . . said she wondered whether high school biology should be a requirement for running for office.”
What chutzpah! If “high school biology was a requirement of running for office,” there would be 196 congressmen already looking for new jobs.
Despite demands from abortion proponents that this issue can’t be political, they have made it just that, in fact stridently insisting on its politicization. Abortion to these absolutists is no longer an issue on which a national conversation can ensue: Restrictions on late term abortions—even in the sixth and subsequent months of pregnancy—have now become “sacred ground,” according to former House Speaker Nancy Pelosi.
The New York Times could only attribute the House vote to a Republican political death wish: Aware that the bill may never even see a vote in the pro-abortion majority Democratic Senate (which makes Obama’s veto threat so much political posturing), the Times never even dreams that principle, rather than politics, motivated bringing HR 1797 to the floor. No, in the world of abortion absolutism, there can never be any principles on the pro-life side, only retrograde politics. “Maybe they weren’t paying attention to the reaction of Americans across the country who rejected candidates who wanted to restrict a woman’s access to safe, affordable health care,” solemnly intoned Obama acolyte Lindsay Siler in her OFA e-mail blast. It takes either absolute incredulity or rampant cynicism to press abortion as a bedrock right while studiously refusing to give that supposed right its name. “Choice.” “Woman’s health.” “Smart health policy.” Unlike her boss in his Planned Parenthood paean, however, Siler let the word “abortion” slip in—once.
As if Kermit Gosnell never happened. As if the mounting evidence of fetal homicide can be wished away. Hey, we’ve moved beyond that. Belgium is thinking about its own version of “post-birth abortion” as part of new child euthanasia legislation, while the Dutch medical association opines that parental distress may very well justify euthanasia of handicapped newborns.
The late Richard Neuhaus never tired of proclaiming that the abortion issue was a civil rights issue, because no society could play pretend when it comes to its fundamental duty: knowing who is a member of society and thus deserving of its protection. That’s a duty that cannot be addressed by the discursive version of the Texas two-step. An intellectually honest society is one that admits that question has to be discussed, not sloganeered, debated, not politicized. Alas, the search for a few honest men and women in Washington on the Democratic side of the aisle seems to have become particularly challenging.
John M. Grondelski is former associate dean of the School of Theology, Seton Hall University, South Orange, New Jersey.