Baby Killers?

Followers of the Christian Right seem to be thoroughly convinced that any person who is against making abortion illegal is a “baby killer.” This is the main issue that they use to justify supporting an unrepentant, narcissistic, adulterous, racist, xenophobic, misogynistic, authoritarian bully who denies asylum to victims of war crimes, who rips children away from their parents to deter immigrants and asylum seekers, who has failed miserably to protect the American people from a deadly pandemic, and who threatens the stability of our republic by crying election fraud without a shred of evidence.

Setting aside an argument over the definition of personhood, let’s look exactly at what persons who self identify as “pro-life” are calling for. Those who want to make abortion illegal fall roughly into two categories: 1) persons who think all abortions should be illegal except in the case of rape, incest, or the health of the mother (some who argue for exceptions may not want to allow all three of these exceptions); and 2) persons who think all abortions should be illegal – full stop with no exceptions.

The “pro-life” persons in the first category often do not fully think through the implications of making all abortions illegal except in the case of incest, rape, or the health of the mother. First, would a victim of incest have to prove that they were a victim of incest? Does this mean they have to bring in the perpetrator in their families for testing? Will they have to bring official charges against a family member and have the matter settled in a court of law in order to have an abortion procedure? How long will this legal process take? What happens if the process takes so long that the pregnancy goes deep into the second or even into the third trimester? Will the victim of incest simply have to give birth to the child if the legal process takes too long?

In the case of a rape, what is the burden of proof that the victim of rape must show before she is granted access to an abortion procedure? Does the rapist have to be convicted in a court of law before the abortion procedure is made available? What if the jury gets it wrong? What if the process takes so long that the pregnancy progresses into a late term status? How could this legal process actually take place in time to have the abortion early in the pregnancy?

In the case of the health of the mother? Who makes the decision that the health of the mother warrants an abortion procedure? A doctor? A team of doctors? A court? An ethics panel? What say does the mother have if the decision is not wholly hers? How will these decisions be made fairly and consistently across the United States?

When these questions are posed to “pro-life” persons in the first category, it becomes apparent that the complexity of the processes involved in making decisions about incest, rape, and the health of the mother would likely lead to many more victims of incest and rape not having access to abortion procedures: and in the case of the health of the mother, it is likely the ability of the mother to make a decision about her own health would be much more limited than is now the case.

In effect, the complexity of the implementation of a category 1 ban on abortions would make it practically impossible for most victims of incest and rape to have access to an abortion procedure and would disenfranchise women from making decisions related to risks to their own health. In other words, a category 1 ban on abortions effectively becomes something closer to a category 2 ban on abortion, which ends up forcing victims of rape and incest to give birth to the children of their rapists or seek an abortion illegally.

Persons who do not want women to be forced to give birth to the children of their rapists and abusers and who do not want women to lose autonomy in their decision making about their health do not fit into the simplistic category of “baby killer” into which so many Christian Right nationalists want to force them. Rather we realize that women who know their own circumstances ought to be given the autonomy to make decisions about access to abortion procedures and their own health. Many of us who do not want to ban abortions want to see fewer abortions; we want to create communities of hope and support for all mothers and their children; and we want to create systemic change in our communities to help make sure that persons have opportunity for a full and flourishing life. We are not “baby killers.” We simply realize that the legal and moral issues related to reproductive health and access to abortion procedures are much more complex than most pro-life persons are willing to recognize, and we want the women who most know what their own situation entails to be able to make their own decisions.

About Mark Y. A. Davies

Mark Davies is the Wimberly Professor of Social and Ecological Ethics and Director of the World House Institute for Social and Ecological Responsibility at Oklahoma City University. He is the Executive Director of the Leadership, Education, and Development (LEaD) Hub North America of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry of the United Methodist Church and an Oklahoma Humanities State Scholar. Mark has published in the areas of Boston personalism, process philosophy and ethics, and ecological ethics. Dr. Davies serves on the United Methodist University Senate, which is “an elected body of professionals in higher education created by the General Conference to determine which schools, colleges, universities, and theological schools meet the criteria for listing as institutions affiliated with The United Methodist Church.” He and his wife Kristin live in Edmond, OK in the United States, and they have two daughters. The views expressed by the author in this blog do not necessarily represent the views of Oklahoma City University or the United Methodist Church.
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