According to conventional wisdom, anti-abor- tion advocates are vulnerable to charges of being anti-woman and anti-science. Pro-lifers subordinate dispassionate scientific inquiry to irrational religious belief, many people believe, and their “fetus fetish” blinds them to the plight of women in crisis pregnancies.
But two novel laws passed recently in Nebraska explode those myths by highlighting how pro-lifers have embraced women and seized the mantle of science by revealing exactly what it is those who abort are choosing.
On July 15, the Women’s Health Protection Act will take effect. The law will require women seeking abortions to be screened for mental health issues and other risk factors and to be asked whether they are being forced or pressured to abort.
The measure also will give women who develop mental or physical problems post-abortion the right to file civil lawsuits against abortion providers who failed to give proper pre-screening. Abortion providers will not face criminal charges or risk losing their medical licenses.
The new law erodes the notion advanced by Planned Parenthood and others that the emotional effects of abortion are “largely positive.” Although post-abortion stress is a subject of considerable controversy, the new law affirms what numerous empirical studies have shown: that many women experience profound and long-lasting emotional grief after abortion.
The second law addresses not the pangs of the aborting mother but the excruciating pain of the aborted baby. The Pain-Capable Unborn Child Protection Act makes it illegal for a doctor to perform an abortion 20 weeks or more after fertilization, except to preserve the life of the mother.
This law is informed by research showing the strong likelihood that unborn children develop pain receptors throughout their bodies as early as 20 weeks. It is the first law to prohibit some abortions on the basis of pain instead of viability, whether an unborn child can live outside the womb.
There is no doubt that abortion can be painful. A dilation and evacuation (D&E) abortion, used from 13 weeks to 24 weeks, involves using forceps to pull the baby into pieces. A saline abortion, the most common technique after 16 weeks, involves injecting a strong salt solution through the mother’s abdomen into the baby’s sac. The baby then swallows, and is poisoned by, the fluid, which also burns off the outer layer of the baby’s skin. Labor begins within 24 hours, and the mother delivers a dead baby.
These two first-of-their-kind laws are a result of pro-lifers’ embrace of science and technology. Ultrasound images give mothers and fathers an enhanced picture of what - of who - is being destroyed in an abortion. Twenty states have laws that allow women considering abortion to be offered a chance to view an ultrasound image of their unborn child.
These laws are rooted in the basic insight that if a woman in a crisis pregnancy perceives her child as a living, breathing, feeling (not to mention kicking and yawning) human being, and if she recognizes the risks of abortion, she will be more likely to choose life.
Abortion rights groups are challenging both new laws. Planned Parenthood of the Heartland filed suit against the mental health screening law, stating that compliance could be difficult and that women could be given irrelevant information. A hearing for a preliminary injunction of the law is set for July 13.
Regardless of the legal outcome, the recognition that a fetus can feel pain and that a woman may experience a deep sense of loss after an abortion has already had a profound effect in the court of public opinion.
America has seen a remarkable shift away from abortion in almost every way. Numerous polls show that for the first time in at least a decade, a majority of Americans describe themselves as “pro-life.” In Gallup’s annual poll, the share of respondents who self-identified as “pro-life” grew from 33 percent in 1995 to 51 percent last year.
Abortions have decreased by 25 percent, from an all-time high of 1.6 million in 1990 to 1.2 million in 2005, according to the Guttmacher Institute.
Abortion advocates openly fret about the shortage of medical students willing to train in abortion. The number of abortion providers dropped from 2,908 in 1982 to 1,787 in 2005. And 87 percent of U.S. counties have no abortion facilities.
Ultrasound has been responsible for a number of high-profile conversions to the pro-life cause, including several directors of abortion facilities. It also has stirred many Americans who were formerly ambivalent about abortion to adopt the pro-life position.
Americans rightly recoil from images and descriptions of torture of prisoners and of cruel treatment of animals. We should not be surprised when they react similarly to the inhumane treatment of unborn babies and their mothers.
Gary Bauer is president of American Values and chairman of Campaign for Working Families. Daniel Allott is senior writer at American Values and a Washington fellow with the National Review Institute.