The case for life is a moral, philosophical, scientific, and political one. The last of these, however, only has traction when the others are persuasive.
It’s true that Alabama’s new abortion law takes a philosophically consistent position in establishing the legal personhood of unborn children without exception. Abortion in cases of rape and incest are fraught with questions of personal autonomy and mental anguish, but, if you believe an unborn child is a human being deserving of protection from violence, it’s morally consistent to also believe that one tragedy shouldn’t compound another.
As a political matter, however, the Alabama bill creates a situation that allows pro-abortion advocates to concentrate their pushback on the approximately 0.5 percent of procedures rather than the 99.5 percent. In turn, pro-lifers, now accused of protecting slack-jawed incestuous child rapists, are impelled to make the most challenging arguments about the rarest cases rather than make the most convincing arguments about the most common ones.
So while debates over rape and incest exemptions shouldn’t be treated flippantly or dismissed, the Alabama law has given abortion advocates a reprieve from defending the barbaric practice of discarding thousands of viable and near-viable fetuses every year for convenience’s sake.
The law itself, as Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey noted when signing, is probably unenforceable, and will almost surely be stopped by the courts. In the worst-case scenario for pro-lifers, the law might even wind up strengthening Roe v. Wade. If your goal is to save lives, not merely make pronouncements, this seems counterproductive—especially considering the fact that abortion advocates have been on the defensive for years.
When your opponents are compelled to defend the sale of body parts of unborn children for profit—as gruesome as the situation is—you are winning the debate. When your opponents are forced to support a Virginia governor who describes, in detail, how to commit negligent homicide when a baby survives an abortion attempt, you’re looking down from the higher moral ground.
Nearly every Democratic presidential candidate defended Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, and every one of them opposed a Sen. Ben Sasse bill that offered protection to newborns who were lucky enough to survive abortion attempts. Every Democratic Party presidential hopeful—although, to be fair, there are so many I might be missing someone—also supports unlimited abortion on demand for any reason until the ninth month of pregnancy. (Ask anyone who claims this contention is false to provide you with a single restriction supported by any of these candidates.)
These are radical, anti-humanist positions that not only remind us of the eugenicist roots of the progressive movement but are also far outside the mainstream. Nearly every poll—other than those paid for by Planned Parenthood—find that Americans support bans on post-20-week abortions in large numbers. An Washington Post/ABC News poll, for example, found that 56 percent prefer restrictions after 20 weeks over 27 weeks. And though Democrats like to pretend abortion is a patriarchal effort, poll after poll shows that women are just as likely to be pro-life as men.
Abortion advocates, more importantly, are also losing to science. And technological advances are intricately connected to the efficacy of the ethical argument.
The earliest premature baby to ever survive after delivery was 410 grams, 21 weeks and four days. She’s now a healthy toddler. She won’t be the last. And she won’t be the earliest for long. The survival of every one of these children chips away at the notion that abortion is a victimless process stripped of consequences.
The fact that abortion touches two lives has always been why activists have larded up the debate with misleading euphemisms like “reproductive rights” and “women’s health care.” It’s the reason abortion advocates detest talking about fetal pain and like to use medical terminology to rhetorically anesthetize the procedure and dehumanize the unborn baby.
It’s the reason abortion advocates like Alyssa Milano demand the media stop referring to “heartbeat bills” and start calling them “fetal pole cardiac activity bills.” They know nearly every parent who’s listened to an ultrasound of a heartbeat understands what it means. And it’s also the reason abortion advocates want to talk about the 0.5 percent of tragedies, and not the central catastrophe of abortion.
Georgia’s “heartbeat bill” and the 20-week bans that have been passed elsewhere move the movement forward in ways the Alabama law does not. While incrementalism might not come naturally to conservatives, especially in this era, it’s worth remembering that, in the end, the way to win the fight is to convince Americans that abortion is morally repugnant. To that end, science and decency are on your side, whether the law is or not.