As a longtime journalist and commentator, I have written thousands of stories about faith, politics, and culture, with the abortion conundrum often at the center of my work. It is, without a doubt, a daunting and tragic topic — one that quickly turns flammable as people on both sides of the divide passionately and vigorously defend their political and moral stances.
The “right to choose" versus “the right to life" paradigm has for decades bubbled under the surface of our political sphere, though specific events routinely cause the issue to spill over into the crosshairs of national discussion.
The decision this week by the New York state Legislature and Democratic Gov. Andrew Cuomo to legally permit abortions up through birth is one such event — and the intense reaction is understandable, as it's a seismic shift in the state's handling of abortion, with liberal politicians essentially deciding that the unborn have minimal rights, if any at all.
Pro-life activists and conservatives, alike, have decried the new law as a dangerous overreach aimed at opening the door to unfettered access to abortion. Detractors claim pro-lifers are overreacting, countering that abortions will only be allowed after 24 weeks gestation if a baby's life or a mother's life is at risk. Let's take a brief look at what the law specifically says:
A health care practitioner licensed, certified, or authorized under title eight of the education law, acting with-in his or her lawful scope of practice, may perform an abortion when, according to the practitioner's reasonable and good faith professional judgment based on the facts of the patient's case: the patient is within twenty-four weeks from the commencement of pregnancy, or there is an absence of fetal viability, or the abortion is necessary to protect the patient's life or health.
There are some glaring issues with this language — problems that should, at the least, cause pause and concern. To begin, the law is relying on “reasonable and good faith professional judgement," while at the same time expanding the right to perform abortions to non-doctors such as nurse practitioners, midwives and physician assistants.
While that's concerning in its own right, let's deal with the bigger issue: The law allows for an exception for the mother's life after 24 weeks. This might seem reasonable and even compassionate — until you take a closer look.
Abortion is allowed after 24 weeks if it is “necessary to protect the patient's life or health." This is disturbingly general language. Are we talking about physical health, or mental and emotional health? How serious do the health effects need to be in order to satisfy the “good faith" judgment of the expanded class of non-doctors who can now provide abortions?
Based on human inclinations, past history (I was in the courtroom and covered the horrific Kermit Gosnell trial), and the general desperation of some in the abortion field, do we really believe we can trust every, single professional's “reasonable and good faith … judgment"?
Remarkably, none of this is clearly defined, which is troubling. When the goalposts aren't properly set, they tend to move.
But the biggest and most pressing question and concern that the New York law sparks is as follows: what specific medical conditions in a pregnant woman would justify the need for an abortion at 6, 7, 8, or 9 months?
There are certainly rare and heartbreaking circumstances where a woman who is, say, three months pregnant finds out she has cancer or another terminal illness and needs treatment. In that case, the baby wouldn't survive birth, leaving the mother with a difficult choice.
But don't get confused or sidetracked; that's not the scenario the New York law addresses (and an abortion was long legal in that case before the most recent changes). To make it plain and clear: the new law makes it permissible to have an abortion past viability when the baby can live on its own without the mother — if the mother's life is “at risk."
This is an argument that is often advanced by pro-choice politicians. In fact, Hillary Clinton made this very claim in her third and final presidential debate during a heated back-and-forth with now-president Donald Trump.
“The kinds of cases that fall at the end of pregnancy are often the most heartbreaking, painful decisions for families to make," Clinton said. “I have met with women who toward the end of their pregnancy get the worst news one could get, that their health is in jeopardy if they continue to carry to term or that something terrible has happened or just been discovered about the pregnancy."
There's just one logistical problem with both Clinton's claim and the New York law: it doesn't pass muster. If an issue emerges and a woman who is seven months pregnant finds herself in some sort of danger, why would aborting a healthy, mostly formed baby be the only option?
A viable child no longer needs the mother's body to survive, and the baby must come out either way. So, why not simply save the mother's life and deliver the child? Dr. Omar L. Hamada, an OBGYN, offers some clarity that should spark serious concern about the New York law.
“I want to clear something up so that there is absolutely no doubt. I'm a Board Certified OB/GYN who has delivered over 2,500 babies," he recently tweeted. “There's not a single fetal or maternal condition that requires third trimester abortion. Not one. Delivery, yes. Abortion, no."
So, when we say that a late-term abortion is permissible so long as it is “necessary to protect the patient's life or health," some red flags must go up.
Currently, 75 percent of Americans wouldn't mind seeing abortion restricted to the first three months of pregnancy, so Cuomo's disturbing new law that allows abortion through birth on what seems like faulty premises is hardly normative — and it shouldn't be treated as such.
On a final note, the law makes its intentions clear in its removal of protections in the criminal code for unborn babies who are killed due to the conduct of another person (i.e. due to homicide or abuse of the mother).
Democrats stripped the law of previous language that would have protected “an unborn child with which a female has been pregnant for more than 24 weeks." That, too, is disturbing.
Whether you are pro-life or pro-choice, abortion should break you. There's nothing to triumphantly shout about, nothing to celebrate and no reason for cheers. Loss of life should grieve us all, regardless of where we fall on the abortion spectrum. Any other reaction is tragic.
New York's law as currently written is confusing, too general and a potential danger to late-term babies who deserve the right to live just as much as you or I. It's time to pray and get to work to legislatively right this unimaginable wrong.