Catholic Culture Dedication
Catholic Culture Dedication

How the new NY abortion law doesn’t change things, and how it does

By Phil Lawler ( bio - articles - email ) | Jan 31, 2019

Would it be much better, really, if the new law in New York—and similarly ghoulish legislation now advancing in Virginia and Rhode Island—allowed for legal abortion only up until childbirth?

The internet has lit up this week, with anguished laments from pro-lifers, appalled by the willingness of Democratic legislators to embrace even infanticide, in their dogged determination to defend abortion under all circumstances. The outrage is understandable—indeed it is healthy—but it should be tempered by a few factual observations.

First, late-term abortions—especially the sort protected by these legislative proposals—are unusual, and would undoubtedly remain so. “No woman seeks a third-trimester abortion except in the case of tragic or difficult circumstances,” insists a spokesman for Virginia’s Governor Northam.

Second, access to abortion throughout pregnancy is already protected by law in the US, under the Supreme Court’s ruling in Doe v. Bolton, the lesser-known companion case to Roe v. Wade. The court allowed states to set some legal restrictions on the practice, but those restrictions fall if a doctor rules that the mother’s health is in jeopardy. Although respected physicians argue that abortion is never necessary to save a woman’s life, the much more elastic concept of a woman’s “health” can be stretched, and has been stretched, to cover a broad range of cases. The proposals in New York, Virginia, and Rhode Island are doubtless designed to guard against the possibility that the Supreme Court might roll back the most extreme elements of the Doe ruling.

Third, the moral argument against abortion is based on the biological fact that a human life begins at conception. It is a grislier business to kill an unborn child when he is fully developed and ready for childbirth. But it would have been equally immoral to destroy him a few months earlier, when he was tiny and even more defenseless.

So why are we so shocked by the recent legislation? Because the proposals have shown how utterly devoted the Democratic Party has become to the cause of unrestricted abortion—to the defense of access to abortion in any case, under any circumstances, for any reason. Pro-life advocates have observed for years that any argument for legal abortion can be used as an argument for legal infanticide; now the pro-abortion camp has demonstrated the point for us. Faced with cases in which late-term abortion would be indistinguishable from infanticide, they have not hesitated to embrace the killing.

Thus Governor Northam—who was a pediatrician before he descended into politics—has justified abortion even during childbirth, in the case of a child who was not expected to survive. “The infant would be kept comfortable,” he patiently explained. This man, who was once devoted to caring for unhealthy children, went on to explain that the child “would be resuscitated if that’s what the mother and the family desired…[emphasis added]”

And if we can coolly accept the deliberate destruction of a baby who is not expected to live for more than a few days, what’s to prevent the killing of a child who would only last a few months, or a few years? Why should we flinch at suggestions that a handicapped child or an elderly person should be taken away for a sterile “medically necessary” execution? We are no longer on a slippery slope; we’ve arrived at the bottom.

The New York law and its companion bills are not primarily important for medical or legal reasons; they will allow for few if any abortions that would not already by legally possible. Nor do the proposals significantly alter the moral argument about elective abortion, which is wrong in all circumstances. The proposals are important for political reasons, because they make it impossible to camouflage the true intentions of the Culture of Death.

So by all means, pro-lifers, tell the world about the ghoulish implications of these bills. Tell about the babies who could be killed, mere seconds before they were due to leave the womb. But tell your neighbors, too, that those babies could already be destroyed, under existing law. Remind them that a moral subject, an unborn child in the 2nd month of pregnancy is not significantly different from an unborn child in the 9th month—any more than a 6-year-old child is different from an adult. If the law allows for the deliberate killing of one human being, none of the rest of us is safe. By openly allowing for the deliberate destruction of children outside the womb, the pro-abortion fanatics have underlined that point. And as long as they support these legislative proposals, all defenders of unrestricted legal abortion can rightly be classified as fanatics.

Phil Lawler has been a Catholic journalist for more than 30 years. He has edited several Catholic magazines and written eight books. Founder of Catholic World News, he is the news director and lead analyst at See full bio.

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  • Posted by: wacondaseeds4507 - Feb. 02, 2019 3:39 PM ET USA

    I cannot help continually repeating that a procedure that suppresses normal healthy function is not health care but its antithesis. Unsurprisingly, such procedures are almost completely limited to healthy reproductive function under the misnomer of "reproductive health care". A primary problem is the manipulation of semantics that has allowed the redefinition of terms to seemingly validate this absurdity.

  • Posted by: jalsardl5053 - Feb. 01, 2019 8:35 PM ET USA

    A couple of points: 1) These extreme laws highlight the demoniac of the demoncratic party and may, in the end, be a wake-up call to Americans (we can hope after all). 2) It really doesn't matter: those women who were going for that late an abortion are usually the kind of Women's March fanatic who doesn't really care about "the law". 3) Such laws will undoubtedly serve to strengthen the resolve of the pro-lifers and, in particular, organizations like Students for Life.

  • Posted by: nix898049 - Feb. 01, 2019 7:12 PM ET USA

    We are no longer on a slippery slope; we've arrived at the bottom. Nothing more to be said.