Presidential candidate and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg has created quite the standard for abortion that centers on an arbitrary “line” and unlimited power for women. Most recently, he doubled down on this rhetoric during an appearance on ABC’s “The View” in an exchange with Meghan McCain in which he said, “My point is that it shouldn’t be up to the government official to draw the line. It should be up to the woman who is confronted with that choice.”
Buttigieg’s answer was in reference to comments he made in September, when he tried to make the case that abortion is something we can interpret differently because parts of the Bible say “life begins with breath.”
“So if a woman wanted to invoke infanticide after a baby is born, you’d be comfortable with that?” McCain asked. Buttigieg replied:
Does anybody seriously think that’s what these cases are about? If this is a late-term situation, then by definition it’s one where a woman was expecting to carry the pregnancy to term. Then she gets the most perhaps devastating news of her life. We’re talking about families that may have picked out a name, may be assembling a crib, and they learn something excruciating and are faced with this terrible choice. And I don’t know what to tell them morally about what they should do. I just know that I trust that her decision isn’t going to be any better, medically or morally … because the government is telling her to do it a certain way.
Buttigieg’s answers mimic his past statements on abortion and women’s choice. “I think the dialogue has got so caught up on where you draw the line that we’ve gotten away from the fundamental question of who gets to draw the line,” he said at a Fox News town hall in May. “And I trust women to draw the line.”
The Realities of Late-Term Abortion
But that simply makes no sense. In the first place, of course, he’s got his facts wrong. In a Federalist article from almost exactly a year ago, as well as an older post at my blog, “F.A.Q. on late-term abortion,” I pulled together some of the available information on the topic. It included a link to a sympathetic account at Teen Vogue of a 23-year-old woman who got an abortion at 26 weeks — well past viability, well past “looks like a baby” — simply because her polycystic ovary syndrome meant she didn’t find out she was pregnant until then.
It is true in some cases that women discover their babies have severe disabilities, in some cases “incompatible with life,” at the very end of pregnancy. But there are also plenty of Down syndrome diagnoses or other milder disabilities in which the parents choose to end the child’s life.
In some instances, women like the Teen Vogue writer just don’t know they are expecting until late in the pregnancy, or their circumstances change, such as the loss of a job, abandonment by the baby’s father, or pressure from him to abort. Some women know they want an abortion but struggle with logistics earlier.
Now, given that there is no uniform nationwide reporting of abortion, there simply are no good statistics on how many abortions occur due to severe disabilities of the child, let alone differentiating the frequency with which these are cases of certain death after birth compared to cognitive or physical disabilities of less severity, especially relative to other reasons for abortions. There’s also a degree to which everyone’s talking past each other, without differentiation between “just about to give birth” and “post-viability,” or “late enough to look like a baby” — say, at the 20-week marker when pregnant women gush over their first ultrasound.
But the notion that there is simultaneously a “line” but that each affected woman decides for herself whether she is encompassed by those restrictions defies any logic I can imagine.
Is It ‘Trust’ Or Neglect?
I understand the thinking is that women in these situations are facing enough hardship, and it seems cruel to force them to jump through additional hoops. A family has just found out their child will die without ever taking a breath; shouldn’t compassion dictate enabling them to resolve this dreaded situation with as little difficulty as possible?
But consider a cop being called to the scene of a shooting in which a person is standing over a dead body, saying, “It was self-defense.” The same elements of hardship may be present; perhaps the shooter is a woman in an abusive relationship. But we cannot simply “trust women” in this instance — that is, “trust” that in every such assertion of self-defense this was truly the case. It would make no sense because justice requires some degree of investigation to differentiate between true self-defense and a direct attack.
Or consider the issue of child abuse: We know that investigating families when there’s suspicion of child abuse sometimes produces its desired effect, the rescue of a child from a home life of misery and pain. That’s why we go so far as to implement mandated reporter laws, in which ordinary citizens who in their occupation or volunteer roles encounter suspicions of abuse are required to report them.
We know there are cases wherein there is no abuse and the reporting itself causes hardship, ranging from the anxiety of investigation to extremes of a criminal trial and the loss of one’s children. There are also instances in which parents are reported when they seek medical treatment for injuries that have the appearance of being produced by abuse.
How traumatic that must be for parents, to be investigated and possibly separated from their child at this already difficult time. Can’t we just “trust parents”?
Buttigieg Dilutes the Right to Life
Of course not. We know it’s difficult to find that right line. We know, however, that it is a moral imperative to do the best we can to balance the goals of protecting children while minimizing government intrusion into families’ lives, because the lives of those children matter.
Cases such as five-year-old A.J. Freund of suburban Chicago, allegedly killed by his parents, shock us. Inherent in our legal system is the acknowledgement that we can’t just “trust” a mother, a father, or anyone else to do the right thing, because we must protect those whose lives are at risk.
That gets us back to Buttigieg — and virtually all other Democratic candidates, who say the same thing. If you claim the pregnant women should “draw the line” about whether an abortion is appropriate in their particular circumstances, it is disingenuous to claim you believe there is an objective “line,” or any objective restrictions at all.
Those of us who identify as pro-life believe the right to life is the most fundamental human right, not in a metaphorical or extended sense of finding your true purpose, but simply in the literal sense that the government has a fundamental obligation to prevent others from deliberately taking human life. What Buttigieg and others are doing is fundamentally watering down this protection into something of a moral or ethical question for each of us to decide for ourselves, even as all manner of other misdeeds, such as racism, sexism, etc., have become elevated. He’s rendering the right to life meaningless.
Again, in that respect, Buttigieg is simply following the new Democratic Party orthodoxy, however frustrating it may be that a man who claims to be motivated to care for the poor by his Christian faith parrots the same rhetoric as the rest of them. I sure wish that, rather than trying to have it both ways, he’d just be honest and say, “There is no line except the arbitrary one we set at birth.”