New York’s broad new abortion law, dubbed the “Reproductive Health Act,” was sold to the public as merely enshrining Roe v. Wade into state law. On the surface, it seems to do just that by extending abortion-on-demand to 24 weeks and allowing for exceptions beyond that point in cases where the fetus is unlikely to survive outside the womb or when “necessary to protect the patient’s life or health.” If the law only codifies what was already federal policy, it seems odd that the governor’s and Assembly’s official statements include multiple quotes praising New York’s “progressive” position on abortion. Perhaps this is a reference to just how “progressive” Roe is; after all, it created a national right to abortion so broad that babies could be killed at the point of birth based on an incorrect diagnosis or a temporary emotional state. But no, there are new abortion “rights” in this new law that put it outside even the realm of Roe, which the people selling the law knew even as they said it was the status quo. New York is again “leading the way,” but should anyone want to follow?
Apparently, Killing Shouldn’t Be a Crime
One notable change in the Act is that all language regarding abortion has been cut from the penal code and the new provisions were moved to the public health law. On a rhetorical level, New York is arguing that abortion is a health care right, even a “fundamental” one, and that as such it should not be considered part of criminal law. On a practical level, this means that, even though elective abortion after 24 weeks remains illegal, there are no legal grounds to prosecute whoever performs such an abortion. What exactly is the enforcement method for the few restrictions on abortion that survive this law? Are we relying on the moral conscience of late-term abortion practitioners to obey a law that shrinks their business yet has no method of enforcement? Consider me skeptical of the value of New York’s legal line in the sand at 24 weeks.
The move to strike any language about abortion or “born-alive infants” from the penal code also removes protection from two groups of children—well, two groups besides the vast number of children already being freely aborted under the law. In the first case, as was argued by opponents of the Act, there is now no law against the “involuntary termination” of a pregnancy, let alone a law against fetal homicide; this means that a woman whose child is killed prenatally in an assault or car accident can’t prosecute the killer in New York state. Supporters of the law attempted to argue that the woman has much better charges available with longer sentences, like felony assault, so it doesn’t matter that there is no law against killing the fetus. By this logic, a shooter who kills one person and injures nine others should only be charged for the one murder; the nine attempted murders don’t matter, since you’ll just get a life sentence under the higher charge anyway.
Why would state representatives say something that flies in the face of basic principles of criminal law? New York is unwilling to say that any injustice was done to the now-dead fetus, because, if it had any right not to be killed, it would be inconvenient for the logic of abortion as social good. They’re willing even to imply that the only right which is being violated is the mother’s right to her bodily integrity, but in that same bill they claim she has “a fundamental right to choose to carry the pregnancy to term.” On their own terms, they should argue that involuntary termination and fetal homicide are acts of injustice against the woman’s reproductive right, not only her right to bodily autonomy. The mother is disallowed by law from seeking justice for her child and is told that it is enough that the state might award justice to her. New York is so gripped by abortion fever that it would rather tell pregnant victims of assault how they should view their assault than grant them the right to seek justice for their murdered children.[Tweet that]
Mastering the art of pro-life advocacy requires a delicate balance of candor and affability.
We should not be so afraid of making people uncomfortable that we are unwilling to share the truth. I have seen this happen in some Christian churches when leaders want to be welcoming but are so focused on building community that they either willingly or unintentionally sacrifice the richness of the faith for the sake of attracting new people. Their idea of evangelism is to make Jesus “cool” by selling people a shallow, feel-good message that isn’t different in kind from a motivational speaker.
In response to this culture of misplaced compassion, some Christians take the opposite approach and overcorrect. They want to dive into advanced theology immediately, and call out sinful behavior of people seeking Christ without bothering to build relationships first. This cart-before-the-horse method can be just as unhelpful as the feel-good-religion approach.
I have seen the same two extremes arise during abortion dialogues, and I would like to make a case for the balanced approach to pro-life activism: we need to be both winsome and truthful when we talk about abortion.
If you want to see a clear example of an unbalanced abortion conversation, go onto Twitter and search for “pro-life” or “abortion.” You will see two main types of people:
Those who tweet about abortion without any careful consideration of how their words will be perceived by pro-choice people, and
People who are throwing insults at individual pro-choice accounts and organizations like Planned Parenthood or NARAL.
It is an ugly, unproductive place. Often, I will scroll through and wonder why these people even bother. I suspect for many of them it is because they honestly don’t know of a better way.
On September 18th, Netflix released a documentary about abortion called “Reversing Roe.” I watched it, hoping that it was made in an unbiased way, fairly showing both sides of the debate. Unfortunately, as with most documentaries about abortion, this one was edited in a very slanted way, I think to intentionally manipulate the audience. As someone who studies video editing in his spare time (I know, I’m fun, aren’t I?), I recognized lots of subtle editing tricks the filmmakers were using to make people feel comfortable with pro-choice people and uncomfortable with pro-life people.
I decided that the best way for me to equip pro-life advocates to have productive conversations with their pro-choice friends about this documentary was to make a series of videos showing clips from the film and then provide commentary, both on the biased editing tricks as well as responding to the more substantive pro-choice arguments in the film. I spent the next few weeks doing a careful analysis of the film, shooting about 90 minutes of footage of me responding to the documentary, and then working with a new volunteer on editing them into shorter clips to post on YouTube. I’m modeling a video style that’s become very popular lately, where an expert (like a doctor or lawyer) watches clips from a show or movie and then comments about it. I haven’t seen any other pro-life advocates use this style, and I think these videos came out so great that we might do more in the future.
Click on the embedded playlist below to watch the clips for yourself, but I’ll make a few of my points below to give you a sneak peek.
Those of you who have spent any amount of time on social media lately know that political discourse has been particularly ugly in recent weeks. Ever since the controversy began over separating children from parents caught crossing the border illegally, there have been comments about what it means to be “pro-life.” My favorite tweet from the time of that controversy came from my colleague Rachel Crawford:
Anyone thought of policing the terminology of #prolife today? I think it would really help start a productive dialogue
There are many worthwhile discussions to be had about immigration policy, but policing the term “pro-life” is not a prudent way to start one. [Tweet that!] There are good, compassionate, reasonable pro-life people of every political stripe. This is possible because being pro-life in regards to abortion is entirely consistent with all kinds of other positions all over the political spectrum.