Politics & Policy

‘Incompatible with Life’

Abortion advocates use this horrific term in their effort to justify killing gravely ill babies in the womb.

Late abortion is necessary (even vital) in cases where babies are diagnosed prenatally with life-limiting conditions such an anencephaly and Trisomy 18 — so goes the preferred argument of abortion advocates. Such diagnoses are often not possible until around 20 weeks in the womb.

This advocacy goes counter to the recent nationwide trend of limiting late-term abortions. Governor Mary Fallin of Oklahoma signed a bill today to ban dismemberment abortion — a horrific procedure, typically used 16 weeks and later — after the Oklahoma Senate passed the legislation by an overwhelming 84–2 margin. Kansas governor Sam Brownback signed a similar law just last week.

Also last week, recently declared presidential candidate Rand Paul went on offense to expose abortion extremism in response to a reporter who questioned him on his abortion stance. Paul said: “You go back and ask [Democratic National Committee Chairwoman] Debbie Wasserman-Schultz if she’s okay with killing a seven-pound baby that is not just born yet. Ask her when life begins, and you ask Debbie when she’s willing to protect life.”

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These are all meaningful statements of America’s developing recognition of the humanity of the unborn child. We are able to see with increasing clarity that abortion procedures are ugly, violent, and a stain on our national conscience. We can hope this awareness will continue to grow.

Despite this hopeful trend, abortion advocates are now labeling certain prenatally diagnosed babies as “incompatible with life.” When the baby is gravely ill, they argue, abortion is merciful for both the parents and the child. They have sought to dominate this debate by using this term — “incompatible with life” — implying that these children have no hope and that continuing with the pregnancy would be too traumatic for parents and child.

Recent research, however, is changing our perspectives on life-limiting conditions. A study in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology has shown that more than 70 percent of children with anencephaly do live after birth, even if for a short time, and that time is of enormous value and comfort to their parents.

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Last month, families and medical experts went to the United Nations in Geneva to launch the Geneva Declaration on Perinatal Care at a conference organized by Every Life Counts. Supported by some 250 doctors, nurses, and researchers as well as almost 30 disability and advocacy groups from around the world, the Declaration aims to correct harmful medical practice by discontinuing the biased term “incompatible with life.”

It states: “The term ‘incompatible with life’ is not a medical diagnosis and should not be used when describing unborn children who may have a life-limiting condition.” The Declaration encourages the provision of perinatal hospice care, which parents have found extremely helpful in making the most of their time with their children.

#related#At the United Nations, parents spoke movingly about their children, many of whose lives were tragically short. In a joint statement, parents described the term “incompatible with life” as leading to “lethal discrimination against children with a severe disability, both before and after birth.”

Tracey Harkin’s daughter, Kathleen Rose, was declared “incompatible with life” after she received a diagnosis of Trisomy 13; Kathleen Rose recently celebrated her eighth birthday. Harkin stated at the United Nations:

The phrase “incompatible with life” is not a medical diagnosis: It misinforms parents, it pushes families toward abortion, and it denies those families a chance to spend time with their children, to make memories and to heal.

As we begin the arduous journey that is the presidential-election season, we must continue to advance within our dialogue a deeper recognition of the humanity of the unborn child. We must demand that our candidates do this as well. This includes fighting for the recognition that all human life — regardless of disability, diagnosis, or length of life — has value. For, after all, every life counts.

— Nora Sullivan is an associate scholar with the Charlotte Lozier Institute in Washington, D.C. She is currently pursuing a masters in public affairs in Dublin, Ireland, and lives in Dublin and New York City.


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