Abortion Update, 2021

Oct 2nd, 2021 | By | Category: Featured Issues, Politics & Current Events

The mission of Issues in Perspective is to provide thoughtful, historical and biblically-centered perspectives on current ethical and cultural issues.

The Supreme Court decision in 1973, Roe v. Wade was a watershed in judicial history.  The 7-2 decision established the right of a woman to abort her baby up to the point of viability, usually understood to be during the first trimester of the pregnancy.  The Court also permitted other situations where an abortion could occur within the 2nd and 3rd trimesters.  The result was that America had one of the most liberal abortion standards in the world.  Abortion therefore has been at the center of the culture war battles since 1973.  It is far from resolved and it has further polarized American culture.

 

In this Perspective, I hope to provide an update on abortion in America, 2021.

 

  • First, the Texas law, called Senate Bill 8 or The Texas Heartbeat Act.  The law prohibits abortion when a fetal heartbeat begins, at about six weeks’ gestation, and makes no exceptions for women who were impregnated via incest or rape.  The unusual aspect of the law is its enforcement mechanism.  Private citizens can report on someone “aiding or abetting” an abortion. The Texas law intentionally bars state officials from enforcing the law, thereby making it difficult to challenge in the courts.  With no government official to sue, plaintiffs lack standing to move pre-emptively against the law.  Instead, the law “deputizes” private citizens to sue anyone who performs an abortion or “aids and abets” a procedure.  “Plaintiffs who have no connection to the patient or the clinic may sue and recover legal fees, as well as $10,000 if they win.”  Health-care providers, Uber drivers, clergy, family members, friends—anyone who plays a part in facilitating an abortion is subject a $10,000 fine that becomes in effect a “bounty” for the accuser.  A “whistleblower” website invites anonymous tips to nab those who are complicit in helping a woman terminate her pregnancy.  Abortion providers in Texas estimate that 85% of patients seeking abortions are at least six weeks pregnant and would, therefore, be denied an abortion under this new law.  According to the Guttmacher Institute, about 70% of abortions in Texas in 2019 were provided for women of color.  In an unsigned 5-4 order, the Supreme Court did not rule on the constitutionality of the law, but declined to block the law from taking effect.  The conservative majority did however state that there were “serious questions regarding the constitutionality of the Texas law” but said the Court lacked jurisdiction to act “because of procedural technicalities.”  Most constitutional scholars believe that ultimately the Texas law will be found to be unconstitutional and thereby overturned.  Next spring (in 2022) the Supreme Court will rule on the constitutionality of a Mississippi law that bans abortions at the 15 week threshold.
  • Second, it is quite important to reflect, when it comes to abortion, on what has occurred in the mind of President Biden. Albert Mohler writes that “There are very few profiles in courage in American politics. This seems especially true when it comes to the defense of unborn life. The political predicament of a pro-life politician is this – the political class and the New York-Hollywood-Silicon Valley axis reward those who abandon pro-life positions and condemn those who refuse to surrender. A particularly important profile in moral collapse now resides in the White House. The story of President Joe Biden’s slippery shape-shifting on the abortion issue is both revealing and horrifying . . . President Joe Biden made comments condemning the [Texas] law, calling it “un-American” and ambiguously described ‘whole of government’ efforts to oppose the Texas legislation.  The president, however, made another statement that deserves particular attention. For decades, Joe Biden rooted his views on abortion in his constantly repeated identity as a ‘devout Roman Catholic.’  He routinely describes himself as Catholic, and has repeatedly affirmed his agreement with Catholic doctrine affirming the absolute sanctity of unborn human life. The central contradiction of Joe Biden’s public persona is that he has constantly claimed Catholic identity and ‘persona’ pro-life convictions, while refusing to defend unborn life with any legislative consistency. From the beginning, he has opposed national efforts to reverse Roe v. Wade, which was handed down by the Supreme Court the very year that Joe Biden joined the United States Senate.  This is important – Joe Biden has made clear, more than once, that he personally believes life begins at conception.  Until last Friday, that is, when, in condemning the Texas law, President Biden said: ‘I respect those who believe that life begins at conception – I respect that. Don’t agree but I respect that.’  With those words, President Biden, the ‘devout Roman Catholic,’ threw the doctrine and teaching of the Roman Catholic Church out the window. Those of us who have been watching the moral collapse of Joe Biden knew this moment had to come. It came just days ago, but the story of Biden’s surrender to the radical pro-abortion position has been progressing over decades, slowly, and then suddenly.  Tracing the evolution of President Biden’s view on abortion is vital for understanding our present moral crisis. The chronicle of his views on the sanctity of life encapsulates the trajectory of the Democratic Party. It tells us about the worldview divide in the United States. It tells us a great deal about where we are as a nation and how easily a politician’s convictions can evaporate in seconds.  On September 3rd, 2021, Joe Biden stated, ‘I respect those who believe life begins at the moment of conception. I respect that—don’t agree—but I respect that.’  So much for courage and conviction. So much for resisting the headwinds of political expediency. A half-century career of stating that life begins at conception and that the American taxpayer should not be forced into paying for abortions is now gone. This was a spectacular reversal on a fundamental issue of morality. This sad story is not just about an American politician’s compromise. It is not even just the story of an American president and his political evolution.  The story of Joe Biden raises important questions we all must answer: How will we define when human life begins? Will we stand upon that conviction, no matter the cost?  Our answer to those questions is, make no mistake, a matter of life or death.”
  • Third, Mexico has decriminalized abortion in a devoutly Catholic nation, once committed to a pro-life position.  Mexico’s unanimous Supreme Court decision will immediately affect only the northern border state, but it establishes a historic precedent and “obligatory criteria for all of the country’s judges,” compelling them to act the same way in similar cases, said court President Arturo Zaldívar. “From now on you will not be able to, without violating the court’s criteria and the constitution, charge any woman who aborts under the circumstances this court has ruled as valid.” The ruling refers to abortions carried out within the first 12 weeks of a pregnancy, the period allowed in the four states where abortion is already legal.  [Only four Mexican states—Mexico City, Oaxaca, Veracruz, and Hidalgo—now allow abortion in most circumstances. The other 28 states penalize abortion with some exceptions.]  The conservative National Action Party reiterated its opposition to abortion. “We are in favor of the defense of life from conception and until natural death,” the party said in a statement. It asked that conscientious objection be protected “for ethical, moral, or religious motives.”  In previous decisions, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of women who had been imprisoned or had their rights violated for abortions. But Rebecca Ramos, director of the nongovernmental reproductive rights group GIRE, said the latest case was the first time the justices debated the fundamental question of whether abortion should be considered a crime or not.  As Maria Verza of the Associated Press reports, “The decision could potentially open another option for Texas women seeking legal abortions. For years, some women in south Texas have crossed the border to go to Mexican pharmacies to buy misoprostol, a pill that makes up half of the two-drug combination prescribed for medical abortions. Legal abortions could become accessible now along Mexico’s long shared border with Texas.”
  • Fourth, Gary Abernathy observes that “the leaps and bounds in prenatal science since 1973 are making it increasingly difficult to suggest that an unborn child is merely an impersonal fetus — a clump of tissue — or part of a woman’s body like an organ. Doctors today can repair or stabilize an unborn child’s defects in the womb, from tumors on the lungs to holes in the diaphragm to spina bifida to various heart defects. High-tech software that produces images in the earliest weeks of fetal development are astounding in their detail as these small humans are visibly, as the psalmist put it, “knit together.”  In this age of in utero medical miracles, the notion that the difference between termination or the gift of life is whether a baby is wanted seems increasingly absurd. It’s a standard we would not tolerate at any other stage of existence.  “Many people today will shrug off the edicts of God, if they even acknowledge his existence. But science is sacrosanct; ignore its precepts at the risk of nearly universal condemnation. Advances in prenatal technology make pro-life arguments more persuasively than the Moral Majority ever could. If the Supreme Court is indeed on the road to reversing Roe v. Wade, it may be less because the court has taken a hard right turn, and more because after nearly 50 years the law is catching up to the science.”

See The Economist (4 September 2021), pp. 20-21;  Roni Caryn Rabin in The New York Times (2 September 2021); Albert Mohler, Jr., “A Profile of Moral Collapse: President Biden, Abortion, and the Culture of Death” at www.albertmohler.com (8 September 2021); Jacob Gershman in the Wall Street Journal (7 September 2021); Maria Verza, “Pro-Life Christians Pray, Rally Against Mexico Ruling Decriminalizing Abortion” in the Associated Press (8 September 2021); and Gary Abernathy, “Tighter abortion restrictions may really indicate the law is finally catching up to science” in the Washington Post (9 September 2021).

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