By Mary Huber
On the anniversary of the Roe v. Wade and Doe v. Bolton Supreme Court decisions, legalizing abortion up to moments before birth, the state of New York enacted a new unrestricted abortion law called the Reproductive Health Act.
It purports to safeguard the highest level of abortion rights, should the U.S. Supreme Court ever limit any abortion procedures in the future. While many of us watched aghast as the World Trade Center victoriously lit up in pink, the offense against human life was only exacerbated by the statements by Virginia Governor Ralph Northam asserting that babies surviving late-term abortion should be left to die. Shortly thereafter, the United States Senate voted down the “Born-Alive Abortion Survivors Protection Act,” a bill that would have granted legal status of the unborn child and required physicians to assist babies born after an abortion.
New York’s new law offers no restrictions up to 24 weeks of gestation and third trimester abortions are legal to protect the woman’s life or health. However, “health” is broadly defined as psychological, emotional, physical, familial or in terms of the woman’s age. It mimics the federal precedent set by the Doe v Bolton decision, the companion to Roe v Wade, disregarding any meaningful restriction to late-term abortions. Non-physician health care practitioners can now perform the procedure and most significantly, it created a major policy shift by moving abortion law from the state’s penal code to its health law. There is no longer a reference to abortion in the penal code, excluding unborn children from the definition of “human person.”
In essence, babies born alive after an abortion have lost all protection under previous public health laws. Lastly, it decriminalizes all deaths of an unborn baby in the case of domestic violence towards a pregnant woman. The murder of a pregnant mother can no longer be tried as a double homicide.
What makes this law different from the U.S. Supreme Court decisions in 1973 and how can it impact states such as California? The intent of the bill was to change the abortion debate. The rhetoric of “keep abortion safe, legal and rare” has long passed. Access to abortion at any time for any reason has become the new civil right, effectively excluding any viable unborn child from being classified as a human person. This includes abortion survivors after birth.
Sadly, we now find ourselves in a societal shift where infanticide has progressed from the unthinkable to the justifiable. Bioethics Professor Peter Singer of Princeton University has long argued the personhood of a viable baby, born or unborn. Per his philosophical reasoning, personhood is not granted simply by the biological existence of a member of the species Homosapien. Rather it is someone with a rational awareness of self beyond the actual living organism. Using that logic, a four-month-old baby or any human being whose mind is deemed inadequate or severely disabled, is not a person. Thus, there isn’t a difference between a baby born or unborn. Personhood is recognized by a utilitarian principle that demonstrates a cognitive ability beneficial to family and society. We see this slippery slope with our recent state assisted suicide law.
The chairman of the USCCB Pro Life Activities, Archbishop Joseph Naumann from Kansas City, spoke in a press release on behalf of all bishops in the country, saying the New York legislation was “evil, pure and simple,” calling all Catholics to “fight with renewed vigor for the unborn.” Similar to our assisted suicide law in California, the Catholic Church in combination with pro-life organizations across the state had been advocating against this policy for over a decade.
Proverbs tells us “speak up for people who cannot speak for themselves. Protect the rights of all who are helpless. Speak for them and be a righteous judge. Protect the rights of the poor and needy.”
We are facing a poverty of mind in our country that fails to understand that what God has willed into life is to be respected and protected. But we can find hope in God’s infinite power. Our Lord is our eternal source and our work in His Vineyard is never in vain. We are challenged to proclaim what our Catholic faith teaches us; dignity of every human person, and promote a culture of life in our parishes, family and community. Let us pray together as we continue to advocate for those that have no voice but ours.
Mary Huber is the Director of Respect Life and Pastoral Care Programs for the Diocese of San Bernardino