Tuesday, April 28, 2015

The Dangers of Montana's Pain-Free "Humane Abortion" Bill by Sarah St. Onge

As the mother of a child who was diagnosed with a lethal birth defect during pregnancy, and who carried her baby to term, I was disheartened  -- better yet, horrified -- to learn that such an influential pro-life leader as Fr. Frank Pavone from Priests for Life, as well as Jill Stanek and Eric Scheidler, would offer any type of support for Montana's HB 479, the bill which would require abortionists in Montana to offer women seeking late-term abortions pain relief for their unborn children before killing them.  I am frightened at the possible far-ranging effects which the passage of this bill could have, and this is what I have to say to these leaders who would support such a bill: Babies with lethal anomalies, like my daughter Beatrix, are the most common victims of abortion at 20+ weeks. The individuals championing this legislation have not been in that ultrasound room, feeling their unborn child kicking inside of their body, hearing the news that their baby is going to die. I have. 

I have also been in the most private spaces with these families -- and before any response regarding the close walks supporters of this bill may have taken with families going through this type of situation -- as close as they could possibly be, they still could not possibly understand what happens when, in the space of seconds, your immediate concern shifts from finding out the sex of your child to whether your child is going to die. 

For families in this position, one of the primary reasons for both terminating and continuing a pregnancy revolve around their beliefs about fetal pain. I have met very few families — even the most devout Christian families — who didn’t consider terminating their pregnancy, even if only for a short time, based on concerns about their child being in pain.

I think it can be safe to assume that for those who are inclined to terminate, this law will change very little. But for those who may have been inclined to continue their pregnancies based on the possibility that abortion would cause unnecessary pain to their unborn child, it could drastically change the decision making process. It creates a dynamic where families who may have continued their pregnancies, instead will choose abortion to avoid the possibility of a traumatic labor for their unborn child. 

To reiterate -- the number one reason for terminating a pregnancy with a poor prenatal diagnosis is to spare to the unborn child pain.  Strangely enough, sparing the unborn child pain is also one of the primary reasons for continuing the pregnancy.

Those of us who work to encourage parents to continue their pregnancies after a poor diagnosis owe a good portion of our success to promoting "carry to term" based on a parent’s perception of what "peace in the womb" looks like. As I stated before, even the most devout Christian families will consider termination when faced with this decision. We emphasize that the only way to ensure that their child will live a pain-free life is to continue their pregnancy. This Montana bill will change that. We will no longer be able to assure families that full-term delivery is the least painful choice for their child.

This "pain-free abortion" bill will also be used by physicians to further coerce women into aborting, when faced with their unborn child's lethal anomaly during pregnancy. The pressure from medical professionals to terminate these pregnancies is already intense. Supporters are handing physicians a tool which will be used to apply that pressure with much more force and in a very targeted manner.

Studies have shown that a woman will usually make the decision to terminate within three days of her baby’s diagnosis. Studies have also shown that information from medical professionals is one of the primary influences when it comes to a woman’s choices in this situation.

Much of that three-day struggle has to do with a mother's instinctive drive to protect her child from pain vs. what her physician is telling her is the standard medical solution for her situation? Most people do not realize that termination is the indicated medical "treatment" for lethal fetal anomalies. 

When her unborn child's pain is removed from the equation, how much of that struggle will shift towards the immediate relief from her own pain?  This particular pain is a very real thing. It's a ferocious animal. It can eat away at your resolve in the most terrible of ways.

I don’t think anyone who is supporting this bill understands this situation clearly, to be honest. 

You aren't going to use this legislation to convince the mother contemplating pregnancy termination of her child's humanity at this point in pregnancy. Women making this decision already understand the humanity of the child who they carry. That humanity is central to the decision she makes about continuing her pregnancy.

She is deciding to end her child's life because she does not want her child to suffer, not because she does not want to give birth to her child.

Women generally do not wait 20 weeks to terminate an “unwanted” or "unplanned" pregnancy. An unborn child at 20 weeks was most likely a child she anticipated bringing home. These mothers are in the deepest, most desperate place. Like anyone in pain, many will seek what they believe to be the quickest remedy at hand. They want relief. Once they can be assured that their unborn child won’t feel pain, they may be more likely to choose termination in order to relieve their own pain.

I have spent the last five years of my life sharing space and walking with women in this position. I can assure you that if this legislation passes, it will be putting babies at risk who may have been carried to term were it not in place.

The day this Montana "pain-free abortion" bill goes into effect is the day on which physicians begin convincing women that they can give their unborn children “death with dignity.” We are opening a Pandora’s Box with this legislation!

There is another item of concern on this vein: young adults are becoming involved in the pro-life movement because they see it as a humanitarian issue, and they are joining the pro-life cause in record numbers. We are looking at the first pro-life generation since Roe v. Wade. Those same young adults are not as firm in their views about “death with dignity.” Throwing anesthesia into the mix could create an environment where individuals begin viewing these types of abortions in a similar fashion to which they view “death with dignity.”

This bill will encourage people to view abortion as a more humane choice -- but everyone involved with the pro-life movement knows that abortion is nowhere close to humane. Doing this just makes it seem humane. It gives people a rational reason to accept the necessity of late-term abortion.

This leads us to the next troubling aspect of this legislation, from the perspective of the pro-life movement as a political force.

Pro-choice political lobbies present a very compelling argument for the continued application of late-term abortion. They appeal to the emotional nature of why late-term abortions are necessary. They share stories of babies affected with lethal disorders, and the mothers who were "forced" to carry them. Mothers forced to watch their babies die.

One of the most powerful arguments which we have to combat their emotional appeals, is an emotional appeal of our own. The possibility that an unborn child can feel pain during abortion procedures levels the inequality between mother and child. This leveling then destroys the central tenet of pro-choice philosophy -- that a woman's rights overrule the unborn child's.

I can only imagine the pleasure of forward thinking pro-choice groups who are sitting back waiting for this bomb to drop, because as soon as these anesthesia laws go into effect, we have destroyed any reason for pain capable laws to be fought for on a legislative level.

Pro-life supporters of this bill also seem to believe that this legislation is a magic bullet which could force pro-choice groups to address the issue of fetal humanity and fetal pain.  I am confused by this particular belief because this is already happening.

Pro-choice advocates are addressing fetal pain all the way up to the federal level. They must defend their position on it out in the open during legislative pain-capable limitation battles. They are daily opening themselves up to the same criticism that this Montana legislation would open them up to, without risking any additional lives. Again, pain-capable legislation is much more helpful in this fight, because it brings information regarding the pain of unborn children into the public arena, and unlike this anesthesia bill, it does not jeopardize the lives of innocent children by making termination of pregnancy a more attractive option for those sitting on the fence when making a decision about their lethally affected unborn child.

The barbarity of abortion is what spurs people to fight against it.  While making it less barbaric would seem to be a move in the right direction, in the long run anything that makes abortion even remotely attractive is going to become a stumbling point. In supporting this bill, supporters (unintentionally) become complicit in sanitizing late-term abortion, and possibly destroying our one best shot at ending 42+ years of federally-sanctioned child murder.

As we know, Roe v. Wade created federal legislation which allows individual states to limit abortion at viability, and this has since been modified to allow limits that don't cause an undue burden on a woman seeking an abortion, but this still focuses limitations only on the mother’s needs. Pain Capable bills may be fought all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court level if passed, and if pro-life groups can prove a compelling interest in protecting the rights of the unborn child from unnecessary pain, we stand to remove viability limits and the undue burden restrictions and replace those limits with what will essentially become personhood. Pain-capable legislation declares that abortion limitations should be based on the best interests of the unborn child, and not on our ability to save their lives outside of the womb. Pain-capable legislation has the possibility of declaring humanity from conception for every single unborn child who is in danger of being aborted. Supporters are throwing out the opportunity to possibly overturn Roe v. Wade, and possibly end abortion within our lifetime -- because as soon as these anesthesia laws go into effect, they will have destroyed any reason for pain capable laws to be fought for on a legislative level.

We don’t need new legislation to draw pro-choice persons into this discussion. We have it.

I know that many may try to argue that I am heartless, and that I am willing to sacrifice the comfort of an innocent victim in order to make a point, but neither of those ideas is true -- I am genuinely frightened at the gamble which is being taken here.

Another point I would like to address, is that in drafting this legislation, I don’t think the lawmakers involved understand how these types of abortions are performed. There are already options for anesthetic in this situation. Furthermore, when a 20+ week abortion is performed, general practice is to stop the baby’s heart before they begin the procedure -- ever since Gonzales v Carhart, when the Court said that this is the best alternative. A mother is also given IV sedation during the procedure, which crosses the placental barrier. This may not happen every time -- I can't claim knowledge of how every single 20+ week termination is carried out in the U.S., but I have yet to meet a mother whose termination did not include this as the first action done against her child.

Furthermore, this bill doesn’t guarantee that these babies will automatically receive anesthetic -- only that it will be offered. Some claim that this offer may be enough to turn a mother's heart away from terminating her pregnancy. They claim that the mother who cannot afford to pay for anesthetic may choose to continue her pregnancy when faced with the prospect of causing more suffering on the part of her baby. This is not the reality of the situation. We know that the majority of abortions done at this late time are done for fetal anomalies. These are considered "therapeutic" abortions, and for women of less financial stability, they are often paid for using federal tax dollars or health care insurance. Both financially stable and less fortunate mothers are going to be capable of utilizing anesthetic for their unborn child.

In addition, I have noted in my child loss groups (anecdotally of course) that lower income families are more likely to continue their pregnancies after with a poor prognosis than their more affluent counterparts. I don’t know the relevant statistics for this, but it’s something that needs to be stated.

And finally, at least in regards to this legislation, do supporters honestly believe that that this legislation will be confined to Montana? As more families make the decision to have their late term abortions done in Montana as a result of this "humane abortion" bill, more physicians in other states will begin offering this service voluntarily in order to compete in the market. We are already seeing abortion doulas, photographers who will accompany families to facilities to memorialize their children's lives, and physicians who offer a more serene experience for the family who is terminating because of fetal anomalies.  This will create a demand for "humane abortions."

Those of us who oppose this legislation are not the ones in danger of sacrificing innocent babies to our rigid ideology -- the people who are supporting this are. This is going to become the “humane” way to end the lives of children with disabilities.

I will now continue this on a more personal note.  I am quite angry at all of the pro-life leaders and legislators who support this bill, for the impact that this legislation will have on babies like my daughter.

My daughter was fortunate that I was her mother. To someone else, she would have been a throw-away baby.  Babies like her don’t need someone to give them anesthesia, -- they need someone to fight for their right to life.  They need a hero to tell people that they aren't worth sacrificing on the altar of your form of "incrementalism."  Unfortunately, that isn’t happening here.

Once again, exceptional babies are pushed aside to compromise on abortion legislation, except this time, even staunch pro-life allies are supporting the compromise, because these babies are most likely going to die anyways.  As disappointing as it is, it’s become par for the course.

To most, it seems unfathomable that any human would deny another human being pain relief in this instance. In contemplating this issue, this is where I stand:  We must trust God in these instances- and lean not on our own understanding.  Everyone who supports this effort is rationalizing this in human terms. We don’t like to see suffering, so we are going to fix it…. But this isn’t the way to fix the problem. 

I cannot claim to know the will of God, but I feel comfortable in believing that sanitizing sadism isn't part of His plan. 

My firm stance regarding this legislation isn't due to my heartlessness. I just believe in the power of a God who works as long as we follow His rules, even though our rational minds may not understand them. His laws do not permit us to conspire with others in the destruction of innocent life. 

Some critics have claimed that there is no endorsement of abortion implied in supporting this bill. I understand that. I am not claiming that anyone's motives come from anywhere less than the most compassionate place. 

Unfortunately, as I stated above, this misguided support will most likely end the lives of more infants with lethal anomalies, who may have been carried to term. You will be held accountable for those lives.

I know that, without a doubt, I would choose to forgo anesthesia if I knew that multitudes of my brothers or sisters would be marked for destruction due to my decision. I would do so remembering all of the martyrs who have gone before me, and how they too were killed while taking a firm stand for Christ.

We know that natural law is placed in our hearts at conception, and I believe firmly in faith in the womb. We see in the Bible (Luke 1:41), that unborn children are sentient- and recognize the power of God when they come into contact with it. How do we know that being able to voice their consent, they would not refuse to participate in something which would most probably lead to the death of others? 

We find it so easy to put ourselves in their place in terms of suffering, but we find it impossible to put ourselves in their place in terms of sacrifice. 

In closing, I offer this: the best comparative situation which I have found to illustrate how damaging this legislation will be, is the comparison between abortion and lynching -- an act which victimizes a specific segment of the population, and which is as brutal as that which happens in the womb. Both acts end the life of their victims, after prolonged suffering. Both acts are performed against a human being without their consent. 

Now visualize the images which we have seen of lynching victims.  If we were to say, "We cannot end the lynching, so we will administer anesthetic to the victim in order that they feel no pain," do you truly believe that the victim would accept that as the best option?  It would be more likely that we would be shamed, because upon hearing this, the victim’s cries would overwhelm us. Every other noise would be drowned out by their appeals to you, to cut down the noose. We do not tolerate the lynching of people any longer, because we heard their cries and it was a call to justice. That justice was not incremental. 

The only reason such unprincipled incrementalism has been acceptable as a pro-life strategy is because the victims of abortion cannot call out to us. They cannot tell us how our acceptance of legislation which allows certain segments of their population to be discriminated against, is harming them as a whole. 

Unprincipled incrementalism, as practiced in this legislation, discriminates against a very specific group of persons and it removes their humanity, reducing them to the status of animals -- those we can kill as long as they don't feel pain.

And without even a "silent scream", it makes it easier to continue on this course.

I would like to ask you to reconsider your support for this bill, for the sake of babies like my daughter -- babies who are even now quietly resting in their mothers wombs, yet to be diagnosed with their rare disorder. You have much influence, and the ability to do good.  Please don't let an emotional response to a brutal crime blind you to the possibility that this legislation will most likely end up being used for evil, and not for the good which you are visualizing.

Sarah St. Onge, mother to Beatrix Elizabeth  -- 12/13/10

BIO:  Sarah St. Onge is a wife, mother of 4, step-mother of 2, and pro-life blogger for Save The 1.  She blogs on grief, loss, and pro-life issues pertaining to continuing a pregnancy after a lethal anomaly has been diagnosed, at www.shebringsjoy.com.