The Nation's Pulse

Neither Partial, Nor an Abortion

Infanticide is again before the Supreme Court. Why?

By 11.13.06

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The Queen's English takes a beating whenever our politics turns to abortion. The most recent instance of this distortion of language -- obfuscation, really -- is the discussion of "partial birth" abortion. This barbaric practice is neither partial, nor is it an abortion. It is nothing short of infanticide.

During the last week's oral arguments in the U.S. Supreme Court, over a federal law seeking to ban this latest assault on the integrity of the human person, my ears perked up when I heard that the lawyers and judges used the term "fetal demise" to describe the fate of the doomed subject of the horrendous practice.

The "fetal" part refers to a baby. The "demise" refers to the killing of the baby, by means of crushing her skull, in the course of a breech delivery.

It should be of no consequence whether this outrage occurs immediately before, during, or after the actual "birth" of the child. It is abhorrent throughout. In terms of the continuum of the child's existence, which begins with conception and ends with death, birth is an entirely arbitrary, fleeting moment in time, a non-event in terms of the child's inherent worth. What in God's name is the principle of science, law, or morality which dictates that a human being is worthless one moment, before birth, and entitled to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness the very next, that is, after birth?

Listening to judges and lawyers arguing whether or not this tragedy occurs in utero is to descend into the theatre of the absurd. At this late stage in pregnancy, no sane human should be disputing the child's expectation of a safe harbor in the arms of the mother.

Seizing upon the moment of birth as a litmus test for ascertaining a person's humanity is bizarre at best, obscene at worst. It is our postmodern version of debating the number of angels dancing on a pinhead, driven by the errant nonsense in the controlling precedents of Roe v. Wade, its companion case, Doe v. Bolton, and their legal progeny, if I may use that term.

Recall that Justice Blackmun in Roe and Doe jury-rigged an arbitrary and capricious legal fiction to deprive the state of any real authority to protect pre-born human life. He superimposed a minimalist regulatory scheme on the customary division of a woman's pregnancy into trimesters, allowing varying degrees of protection, or lack thereof, based on milestones over the nine months. He theoretically posited viability as the point, usually at the seventh month, when the state could protect the "potentiality of human life" including outright prescription of abortion at that stage.

Viability, of course, is a relative concept, supposedly grounded on the ability of a "fetus" (Latin for "offspring") to survive outside the mother's womb. This condition of survivability is radically dependent on the state of medical science, but is also beside the point, at least in terms of determining a child's humanity or personhood.

A week ago my fifth grandchild was born. Guess what? She is totally dependent on her parents to feed her, keep her warm, and to sustain her life, even though she is completely outside the womb. No doubt, you know many a family with a beloved child born prematurely, often in extremely risky cases, who is just as human as anyone else despite having been dependent on life support systems outside the womb.

And consider the first time you and your spouse saw the ultrasound pictures of your child, pre-viability. One of you didn't say, "Oh look, Honey, it's our fetus!" No one calls an unborn child a fetus except when the subject of abortion comes up. Then the mental filters go up, screening out the humanity of the being about to be destroyed.

What Justice Blackmun gave in Roe, he took away in Doe. If the mother wants to abort her baby, past the point of viability, the state may not prohibit her from doing so if it is for reasons of health. He then took a broad (I am being charitable here) view of health to encompass "all factors -- physical, emotional, psychological, familial, and the woman's age -- relevant to the well-being of the patient." In practical terms he blocked the state from restricting so-called post-viability abortions, establishing abortion on demand for all nine months of pregnancy based on this infinitely elastic definition of health. Why else are we arguing in the Supreme Court, for the second time, over partial "birth" abortion?

The ideology of abortion on demand defaces the language. Abstract and clinical formulations trump concrete, self-evident, and embodied facts, veiling or de-humanizing the true nature of children in the womb

I struggle to find a new term, other than Orwellian, to describe this ongoing corruption of Shakespeare's tongue. The Nazis' eugenic concept of "life unworthy of life" captures what I am trying to describe.

I console myself with the realization that our country allows us to exercise freedom of speech, if only we have the courage to do so, while harboring the hope of persuading those who are resistant to liberating truths. The truth, as they say, will set us free.

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About the Author

G. Tracy Mehan III served at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in the administrations of both Presidents Bush. He is a consultant in Arlington, Virginia, and an adjunct professor at George Mason University School of Law.