Last week, the Mississippi governor signed House Bill 1510, the Gestational Age Act, which bans abortions after 15 weeks of gestation. As NPR noted, the new law makes Mississippi the national leader in protecting the rights of unborn children.
Not surprisingly, legal action swiftly ensued, as the last remaining abortion facility in the state filed a complaint almost immediately. The law was subsequently blocked and a determination will be made this week on whether to put the law on hold longer. Some speculate the law will be struck down because it attempts to regulate abortion prior to viability, a marker that has been important when deciding the constitutionality of some abortion restrictions.
Naturally, abortion proponents are not happy about the law. The so-called “anti-choice” law has been called strict and unconstitutional, a severe piece of propaganda that shames Mississippi women, “a new low for anti-choice policy,” and “downright dangerous.”
A Public Service Announcement about Abortion
Despite the negative response from abortion supporters, there is plenty to like about this law. The first section of the bill contains several items under the heading “Legislative findings and purpose.” This section includes information on abortion laws throughout the world, prenatal development, abortion procedures, risks of surgical abortions after the first trimester, and why the state of Mississippi has a legitimate interest in restricting abortions after 15 weeks’ gestation. The Mississippi legislature has done a great service by explaining why this bill was introduced and subsequently passed.
By including this information in the bill, the Mississippi legislature is drawing attention to the injustice of abortion and the barbaric methods by which it is carried out in the second trimester. This type of information cannot be overstated, and while abortion supporters will disagree, the injustice of abortion is among the worst human rights violations in human history.
That being said, perhaps the most notable thing about the law is that it does not contain exceptions for cases of rape or incest. The rape and incest clause has long been an exception clause in abortion legislation, given to acknowledge that if a woman becomes pregnant after engaging in non-consensual sex, that woman still has the right to abort the unborn child.
Rape and Incest Exceptions Undermine the Pro-Life Stance
Proponents of such clauses assert they protect against women being forced to carry the child of a rapist. There is no question that rape and incest are horrific, traumatizing crimes. Yet even if the clause is meant as an attempt to acknowledge this and protect against a woman being forced to carry that child, the unintended result is unquestionably undermining the pro-life position.
This has been acknowledged in a reproductive rights seminar at Yale Law School, where one pro-life individual was surprised to find that his classmates were unanimously under the impression that abortion restrictions are about curtailing women’s sexuality.
The line of thinking is simple: if the unborn child really is a human being worthy of protection, it doesn’t matter how he or she came into existence. But since pro-life advocates are often willing to allow abortions of unborn children conceived during non-consensual sex, they must be attempting to control women’s sexuality, not protect the rights of unborn children.
In other words, by allowing abortions in cases where the woman didn’t choose sexual activity, pro-life advocates unwillingly admit they only care about protecting unborn children in cases where the woman chose to engage in sexual activity.
I recently came across this line of thinking again in a podcast episode from a pair of far-left abortion supporters. The words used were almost exactly the same, and the idea was that if pro-life advocates really thought all unborn children equally deserved protection, they wouldn’t allow for exceptions in some cases. By allowing exceptions, pro-life advocates tacitly admit that some unborn children deserve protection while others do not. This position, at its core, is not altogether different from the pro-choice position.
After all, abortion supporters believe the same thing: that some unborn children should be protected and others should not. For abortion supporters, the demographic of protected unborn children hinges on the desires of the mother, while for pro-life advocates, the demographic of protected unborn children hinges on the whether the mother was a willing participant in the sex act that created the child. Yet the result is the same: some unborn children are protected, some are not.
From this perspective, it makes sense that abortion supporters think pro-life advocates are simply trying to control women’s sexuality. The truth, of course, is that pro-life advocates are trying to cut down the number of abortions, and will take any and every action possible to make that happen. Allowing for rape and incest exceptions within a law may undermine the cause, but if it dramatically reduces the number of abortions, then the law has achieved its purpose.
This Is about Human Life, Not Sexuality
Indeed, great strides have been made legislatively by allowing for the rape/incest exception, and the pro-life movement should be commended for these advances. Further, such compromises are often necessary to elicit the needed number of votes to pass legislation. However, it does become ideologically problematic when one’s ideological opposition gets the wrong impression about the lawmakers’ motives. As demonstrated by the examples above, this is especially true for abortion, which is intertwined closely with the extremely personal issue of human sexuality.
Generally speaking, people respond negatively when they feel that others are encroaching upon their personal business. It is easy to see how this response could be magnified if it were lawmakers doing the impeding.
With this in mind, it is crucial that abortion supporters correctly recognize and acknowledge the motives of the pro-life side. The goal is not to encroach upon people’s sex lives, but rather to protect the lives of all unborn children. Without this understanding, abortion supporters will continue unabated to accuse pro-life advocates and lawmakers of misogyny and desiring to curtail women’s sexual activity.
To that end, what is great about the Gestational Age Act is that it acknowledges all unborn children who have reached 15 weeks’ gestation, regardless of how they were conceived, have equal rights. It doesn’t differentiate between unborn children conceived in consensual sex versus unborn children conceived in non-consensual sex.
Equal Protection Under the Law
While 15 weeks’ gestation is still highly problematic from that same equal-rights perspective (and quite lenient by the standards embraced by the rest of the world), the law does continue the trend of strategically chipping away at abortion access in order to save the lives of greater numbers of unborn children. In this regard, the law warrants support from those who aim to further protect unborn human life.
It’s worth mentioning that the law does contain exceptions for severe fetal abnormality (defined as being incompatible with life outside the womb) and for cases in which the mother experiences a medical emergency. Thus, if the life of the child endangers the life of the mother, or if the life of the mother becomes endangered for any other reason, the law still allows the mother to save her own life ahead of the child’s. But in all other cases, the life of the unborn child after 15 weeks is equally protected.
The idea that all human beings have equal rights is what drives the pro-life movement, and it is good to see a law that strives to reflect this sentiment to a greater degree. The law does not leave any room for accusations about controlling women’s sexuality, or misogyny, or any other charges often leveled at pro-life advocates.
Further, this law provides a glimpse into a possible pro-life future where equal rights are secured for all human beings. It allows pro-lifers to look forward to the day when all unborn children, regardless of gestational age or conception status, will be protected without exception. That future may seem a long way off, but this law is a reminder that plenty of individuals are working hard to make that seemingly far-off future a reality.