Examining the unborn

Bear with me here, because I’m thinking out loud. It all started with the fact that today’s Chronicle had a sad, sad story that began like this:

Expectant mother, fetus shot dead in Oakland

Kennah Wilson, 18, was eagerly anticipating the birth of her daughter this fall. She was going to name her baby Kamilah and had plans for a baby shower in October.

But gunmen opened fire outside an East Oakland apartment complex on Friday night, killing both Wilson and her 7-month-old fetus, police said Saturday.

A less awkward way to have headlined and told the story would have been “Pregnant woman killed in Oakland.”  Reading that, most would have assumed, unless explicitly informed otherwise, that the baby died too.   I therefore found this verbose, clinical phrasing surprising.

My assumption, since the Chron is a very pro-choice paper, is that the only way to bring out the true pathos of this story — which would ordinarily be just another death in the more crime ridden part of Oakland — was to make it a mother-baby death.  And the only way to do that was to emphasize the nascent life inside of poor Kennah.

The problem, though, is that once you start emphasizing those nascent lives, you’re acknowledging that the Democratic platform commitment to entirely unfettered abortion (including Obama’s belief in the right to abort the baby after it’s already born), runs headlong into the fact that a seven month old baby has truly become a person in its own right.  Had the fetus survived the shooting, it would have had as much chance of life as the average premature baby — which is pretty darn good in our modern world.

Which gets me to something that’s making me increasingly uncomfortable about the modern Democratic party.  To explain my discomfort, let me start with my own journey on abortion.  I was raised strongly pro-Choice — abortion without limits would have been my unthinking mantra in the 1980s.  With the passage of time, though, I’m become ever uncomfortable with that absolute position.

Having had children of my own, having seen (through sonograms) those lives grow within me, and having seen the survival age of premature babies pushed further and further back, I am uncomfortable with unfettered abortions, especially those that occur simply because pregnancy is inconvenient.  I’m also highly uncomfortable with late term abortions (and, unlike Barack Obama, with post-birth abortions).

As I’ve said in other posts — and perhaps I’m driven to this by some Jewish genetic instinct  — I’m hewing closer and closer to the traditional rabbinic view of abortion, which seems to me to strike an admirable balance between the lives of both baby and mother (footnotes omitted):

The easiest way to conceptualize a fetus in halacha [Jewish law] is to imagine it as a full-fledged human being — but not quite. In most circumstances, the fetus is treated like any other “person.” Generally, one may not deliberately harm a fetus. But while it would seem obvious that Judaism holds accountable one who purposefully causes a woman to miscarry, sanctions are even placed upon one who strikes a pregnant woman causing an unintentional miscarriage. That is not to say that all rabbinical authorities consider abortion to be murder. The fact that the Torah requires a monetary payment for causing a miscarriage is interpreted by some Rabbis to indicate that abortion is not a capital crime and by others as merely indicating that one is not executed for performing an abortion, even though it is a type of murder. There is even disagreement regarding whether the prohibition of abortion is Biblical or Rabbinic. Nevertheless, it is universally agreed that the fetus will become a full-fledged human being and there must be a very compelling reason to allow for abortion.

As a general rule, abortion in Judaism is permitted only if there is a direct threat to the life of the mother by carrying the fetus to term or through the act of childbirth. In such a circumstance, the baby is considered tantamount to a rodef, a pursuer after the mother with the intent to kill her. Nevertheless, as explained in the Mishna, if it would be possible to save the mother by maiming the fetus, such as by amputating a limb, abortion would be forbidden. Despite the classification of the fetus as a pursuer, once the baby’s head or most of its body has been delivered, the baby’s life is considered equal to the mother’s, and we may not choose one life over another, because it is considered as though they are both pursuing each other.

It is important to point out that the reason that the life of the fetus is subordinate to the mother is because the fetus is the cause of the mother’s life-threatening condition, whether directly (e.g. due to toxemia, placenta previa, or breach position) or indirectly (e.g. exacerbation of underlying diabetes, kidney disease, or hypertension). A fetus may not be aborted to save the life of any other person whose life is not directly threatened by the fetus, such as use of fetal organs for transplant.

Despite agreeing with the careful balancing act that is expressed under Jewish law, I can readily recognize the rational and moral choices that drive those Christian pro-Lifers who argue, accurately, that life begins at conception.  While I would engage in more of a balancing than they would, I still think that theirs is a completely coherent viewpoint.

Ultimately, on the pro-Life side, there is a continuum of reasonable beliefs ranging from the absolute purity of the completely pro-Life person, to the practical and moral balancing act of the religious Jew.  While these views may lead to different practical outcomes, their focus is on the preservation of life.

What’s unseemly and icky about modern Democrats is that they’ve created an ideological corner in which they start sounding like a baby killing factory.  For all the “safe, rare and legal” (or whatever that slogan was) that emanated from the Clintons, the party faithful don’t think that way.  They don’t acknowledge reasonable gradations.  Instead, they see things as binary:  Either abortion is unfettered or its entirely fettered.  They’ve gotten themselves locked in a box where they can no longer have a rational debate that tries to balance the differing interests of mother and child and, as to both, to do so with an eye to life.

This shrill, binary message means that hardcore Democrats, the ones who dominate the message and the media, sound dreadful.  While it once appeared that they were trumpeting rights for women, they now sound fossilized.  Arguments for abortion that made sense when we merely guessed at fetal development and when pre-term babies routinely died; or when babies born out of wedlock (and their mothers) were horribly stigmatized; or when birth control was impossible to obtain, sound brutal in this day and age when we see (and save) in utero babies; when out-of-wedlock children are normative (especially in Hollywood); and when birth control is sold at every grocery store.

Unwanted pregnancies still happen, but the social dynamics have shifted dramatically.  To get back to where I began — the tragic death of Kennah and Kamilah — it’s worth noting that this story was all about a teenage girl without a husband (and there’s no mention of the baby’s father in the article).  While her unwed status would once have relegated her to society margins, this story makes it clear that an out-of-wedlock baby is a non-issue.  Mom’s abandonment was not part of the tragedy at the heart of this story.

In this scientific and social climate, to continue to insist on “all abortion, all the time” is too morbid and self-serving to sit well with a fundamentally moral citizenry.  I think this fact is important because there is no doubt that Sarah Palin is absolutely and entirely pro-Life — she’s walked the walk and talked the talk.

While there are many Americans like me, who are not absolutely and entirely pro-Life, the intellectual coherence of Palin’s position may stand out in splendid contrast to the ghoulish moral house in which the Democrats now live.  Between these two extremes, Life may prove less frightening to independents and conservative Democrats than death — no matter how much hardcore Democrats continue to believe that unfettered access to abortion will be the pivot that drives women voters to their party.  In other words, moderate voters may tolerate Palin’s pro-Life stance, not because they’re embracing her, but because they need to reject the Democrats’ deathly absolutes.

In any event, it’s worth reminding people worried about Palin’s stand that neither Presidents nor VPs directly affect abortion policy.  All they do is try to appoint conservative Supreme Court justices.  And, unless these justices are themselves activists, all that they can do is reverse Roe v. Wade, which in turn will throw abortion back to the States (unless Americans unite to have an Abortion Constitutional Amendment).  And after 35 years of the abortion revolution, the outcome in the states is likely to be more liberal towards abortions than it was 35 years ago across America.  While an unpleasant scenario for those deeply committed to unlimited abortion, it’s also not the end of the world.