I watched an extensive interview with Jeb Bush the other night, and tracked with quite a bit of what I was hearing. On my list of candidates in the Republican primary, he has not yet been crossed off my list of potentials I could possibly vote for — for various reasons I will no doubt be called upon to explain later. But that is for another time.
That said, I want to take him to task for a basic blunder that usually goes unremarked when pro-life candidates commit it, as he certainly did. It was only not a gaffe because no one ever treats it like one. I am talking about the “rape, incest, and life of the mother” question. The pro-aborts always kick every abortion question over to the woman and her doctor. Educated pro-lifers notice the discrepancy, but want to leave well enough alone because the candidate in question at least promises to stop the “at-will” slaughter.
The problem is not this exception treated as part of a pro-life incrementalism. The carnage is still atrocious, but the strategy is fine. We don’t start by trying to outlaw abortions in cases of rape and incest; we start with partial-birth abortions, or with “pain-capable” laws. The problem is that the “rape, incest, and life of the mother” response has a catechetical and numbing effect, such that people stop thinking about what they are actually saying.
So here is the problem. When a child is conceived in a rape, there are three parties involved in the consequences — the rapist father, the victim mother, and the victim child. This standard political response blurs over this reality completely, but this blurred reality sums up all the issues in the entire abortion debate. If pro-lifers are correct, the unborn child is a person created in the image of God. As a consequence, it is a monstrous iniquity to execute him for the crime of his father. We are saying, in effect, that the guilty party will not be executed, but that one of the victims will be. What kind of thoughtful compassion is that?
If the child of rape is a person, then his life must be protected. If that child is not a person, then we need not protect him. But if he is not a person, then why are all the other children we are fighting for considered persons? Surely we do not want to define personhood by the circumstances under which the egg and sperm met? The issue is what results from that meeting, not how the meeting came to be.
This is not a hard-hearted position. I believe that we ought to have a criminal justice system that severely punishes the guilty party in all such situations, and which is extremely tender toward the victims. But you are not being tender toward a woman who was a victim of rape by telling her lies that will involve her complicity in the murder of her fellow victim.
With incest, there are two ways to go. If the incest was non-consensual, then it was rape, and see above. If the incest was consensual, then the issue is possible birth defects. But why would pro-lifers want to open the door to that? Do we really want to say that we must protect the unborn unless the child has birth defects? Why would a woman be allowed to abort her child if the defects were the result of incest, but not allowed to do it if the defects came from another source? This exception also exhibits unusual levels of confusion.
The only item in this list of exceptions that makes legal sense is the “life of the mother.” There are abortions that arguably are medically necessary, although even that is much rarer than is usually assumed. I am referring to ectopic pregnancies, cases where the child is growing outside the mother’s womb. Even here the death of the child is not a foregone conclusion.
In such cases, I believe the law ought to allow physicians the professional discretion to determine when it is not possible to save the lives of both mother and child. When it is not possible, and when the law is not being used as a thin cover for a pro-death agenda, I believe that a physician has the responsibility to do what is best for everyone. This kind of situation would be like separating Siamese twins, where one of the children has much less of a chance of making it. But even here, the goal should be to save every life possible.
Obviously more needs to be said about this last exception, but the takeaway point here is that exceptions here are possible in a way that does not surrender the entire debate, as it does with the rape and incest exceptions.