The Corner

Our Empathy-Incapable Politics about Late-Term Abortion

“What are your feelings, when you kill so huge a creature — when you take so vast a life?”

“Why, I feel a richer man,” said Allen laughing: then, after a moment, “No, but I see what you mean, and I have sometimes thought —”

— Conversation on whaling and vivisection, Dr. Stephen Maturin and Mr. Allen, The Far Side of the World

The press release from the National Organization for Women begins with the by-now-ubiquitous “war on women” language and conveys a threat of political retribution for the House majority that voted last night to outlaw abortions performed after 20 weeks of pregnancy in the District of Columbia. The NOW language is depressingly familiar — a bleak coda to the latest congressional skirmish over whether there exists a limit — any limit — to the vast right to abortion created by the Supreme Court four decades back.

The occasion was a debate over Representative Trent Franks’s bill H.R. 3803, the Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act. Although the margin in favor of the bill was large (66 votes), and more than 50 members missed the vote (subtracting further luster from one of the least lustrous Congresses in memory), the bill failed to garner the two-thirds vote necessary to pass it under suspension of the rules. Even so, a near-70-vote margin on a bill that proscribes a swath of late-term abortions is no small thing, especially given the certainty that its Senate companion, S.B. 2103, is destined for the bottom of the sea in Harry Reid’s Senate.

Under these dynamics, the significance of the Franks bill, the Arizona congressman’s latest heroic attempt to awaken the nation’s feelings about the huge waste of human life in our midst, lies in its ability to motivate and persuade. That life begins at conception and merits the protection of the law is the core proposition of the right-to-life movement. It represents a value judgment based on a straightforward assessment of biological truth

#more#No pro-life person, however, will deny that the act of moral imagination required to accept the new embryo as fully human is more difficult than the recognition that a fully formed unborn child, just days from having the ability to survive outside the womb, is our brother or sister in kind. But such empathy continues to elude the sloganeers at the National Organization of a Shrinking Number of Women. 

Empathy means the ability to identify with or vicariously experience the feelings or attitudes of another. It can be a difficult art, but it is not so terribly difficult when the act one is empathizing with is, as Representative Steve King (R., Iowa) pointed out on the House floor, the ripping of limbs from one’s body. The testimony the House Judiciary Committee took earlier this year on the pain endured by a child of 20 weeks gestation — shown in elevated heart rate, reflex action, and biochemistry — was not seriously rebutted either in committee or on the floor.

As Professor Colleen Malloy, M.D. of Northwestern University told the Judiciary subcommittee last May, “There is ample biologic, physiologic, hormonal, and behavioral evidence for fetal and neonatal pain. In fact, by 20 weeks post-fertilization (22 weeks by last menstrual period), the fetal brain has the full complement of neurons that are present in adulthood.”

The promise of the failed vote on H.R. 3803 is that illusion after illusion about the extremes of the “abortion right” continue to crumble. Infants do survive abortions and are left to die, females are selected for death in the womb by the tens of millions, regimes bent on brutal population control do pin women to hospital beds and kill their nearly full-term children, and unborn children who can feel pain are slaughtered in our nation’s capital without so much as a drop of anesthetic.

Interestingly, White House spokesman Jay Carney answered elliptically when asked Tuesday if President Obama opposed the Pain-Capable legislation. If Obama does oppose it, it would hardly be surprising, because he has never found an abortion so late-in-term, so grievous and violent, so clearly wrong, that he believes its human target fit for the protection of the law. Even at the cost of “so vast a life,” he does not seem to see what we mean.

— Charles A. “Chuck” Donovan is the President of the Charlotte Lozier Institute.

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