One small step for babykind.
We are referring, of course, to the long-awaited 64-34 vote in the Senate to pass the "Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act of 2003." The Senate vote on October 21 followed the 282-142 House vote three weeks earlier. Following the Senate victory, President Bush agreed to sign the legislation, keeping a campaign promise to pro-lifers--an important constituency without whose support he most certainly would not have been elected.
While those of us who are committed to defending the sanctity of life can honestly regard the partial-birth abortion ban as a step in the right direction, complete victory against abortion remains elusive. Depending on the source of your statistics, approximately 1.3 million abortions are performed each year in the United States. Of these, estimates on the number of partial-birth abortions range from 2,000-5,000. Using the higher figures, the ban will, at least in theory, prevent less than four-tenths of one percent of all abortions.
Every human life is worth saving, and saving even a single life is a worthwhile achievement. But, tragically, the language of the legislation condemns, not the crime of abortion, but a particular means (partial-birth abortion) for carrying out that murderous act. In so doing, the legislation actually implies that other means to the same deadly end are permissible. Instead of stopping the killing, the legislation may, in many if not most cases, only change the method of execution.
For example, among the congressional findings stated in the bill was the language: "Rather than being an abortion procedure that is embraced by the medical community, particularly among physicians who routinely perform other abortion procedures, partial-birth abortion remains a disfavored procedure...." This language suggests that other abortion procedures are favored by the medical community. The legislation does nothing to discourage these other, supposedly more favored, abortion procedures.
Another section of the legislation reads: "[A] prominent medical association has recognized that partial birth abortions are 'ethically different from other destructive abortion techniques because the fetus, normally twenty weeks or longer in gestation is killed outside the womb.'" Partial-birth abortion is a form of infanticide. But is killing the 20-week-old infant outside the womb ethically different from killing that same 20-week-old infant inside the womb?
Of course, it is better to ban one abortion procedure than to ban none at all. But the magnitude of this pro-life victory should be kept in perspective. Suppose our laws prohibited ax murders while permitting other forms of murder, such as murders by means of knives or guns. How much of an effect would outlawing just ax murders have on the overall murder rate?
Even if the practical end result of the partial-birth abortion ban is to cause abortionists to switch to other methods, the attention drawn to the issue may help arouse the conscience of a complacent American public. But although we feel positive about the passage of the Partial-Birth Abortion Ban Act, we feel much less so about the fact that it provided an all-too-easy way for a number of spineless politicians to win a "pro-life" label.
Consider, for example, President Bush's position on stem-cell research. In a May 18, 2001 letter to Robert A. Best of the Culture of Life Foundation, Bush wrote: "I oppose federal funding for stem-cell research that involves destroying living human embryos." On August 9 of that stone year, however, Bush made a decision that legitimized the practice he said he opposed three months earlier. His decision allowed federal funding for stem-cell research on 60 stem-cell lines consisting of what he called "embryos that have already been destroyed." One problem with this decision is that he had delayed his ruling for nearly eight months into his presidency. "President Bush's prolonged stalling," explained the American Life League in an August 2002 white paper on the subject, "allowed scientists more time to develop stem cell lines that would be eligible for federal funding. When the discussion surrounding federal funding for human embryonic stem cell research first began, there were 12 known stem cell lines in existence.... By the time the President made his decision in early August, the number of lines jumped to over 60."
Many conservatives continue to hope that, given the chance, George W. Bush will nominate justices to the Supreme Court who will overturn Roe v. Wade. Yet, Mr. Bush has stated he would not use abortion as a litmus test for choosing Supreme Court nominees. And many conservatives view President Bush as staunchly pro-life, even though he supports a right to abortion under certain circumstances such as in cases of rape and incest.
If there is a lesson in all this, it is that as long as pro-lifers abandon genuine pro-life candidates for public office because "they can't win," and cast their lot instead with slippery politicians who manage to straddle the fence on the pro-life issue, they will always fight an uphill battle.